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Reflections on My Life
Reflections on My Life
on My Life
The experience of sharing your stories in a private autobiography for the family
Copyright © 2022 Sidney Symons.
First produced in Great Britain in 2022 by LifeBook Ltd for the Author’s private circulation.
The right of the Author to be identified as the Author of the Work
has been asserted by him in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988.
This book is produced for private circulation and is not for public distribution. The accuracy of the content is the
sole responsibility of the Author and is based on the Author’s perceptions of his experiences over time.
All opinions and statements of fact are those expressed by the Author as his personal recollections, and dialogue
and thoughts are consistent with those recollections.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system
or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior
written permission of LifeBook Ltd, nor be otherwise circulated in any
form of binding or cover other than that in which it is produced.
Spellings, punctuation and grammar contained in this book have been approved by the Author
and may not be in accordance with contemporary accepted styles and usage.
Typeset in Goudy Old Style.
Printed and bound in the UK.
LifeBook Ltd, 10 John Street, London, WC1N 2EB, United Kingdom +44 (0)203 291 1169
1. Family History 7
2. Early Years 17
3. Teenage Years 23
4. Trading Days 27
5. Retail Revolution 37
6. Carol, Children and Castles 45
7. Shop Openings 59
8. Holidays 65
9. Richard, David, Louise and Laura 83
10. Parks Candles 99
11. Kiddush Club 109
12. The Golden Round 113
have had many requests from family and friends to write down my
experiences from my life so far. I have sat myself down now to do just
that. It’s fair to say I have enjoyed an interesting life, although I know
my wife, Carol, would consider that to be an understatement. I hope
she and others find my life story an entertaining read.
So, how far back do I go? If I wonder to myself whether the history
of my early years is of much interest to my children in this modern age,
I remind myself of my grandson’s given name, Jake Okenoff Symons –
a tribute to my grandfather’s Russian roots.
My mother, Rose Harris, and my father, Louis Symons, were both
born in London, but their parents came from further afield. Rose
Harris’s family came from Holland in 1750; Louis Symons’s from
Russia in 1890.
My father’s parents, Simon and Kate Okenoff, were from Vitebsk
– ‘White Russia’, as it was known. Today, Vitebsk is in Belarus. My
grandparents met and married in Russia and came to England around
1890 because of the political turbulence. They only spoke Yiddish
when they arrived, although my grandfather learnt a little English over
the years. Simon was a tailor and Kate had a brother, Alec, who was
a master tailor. Alec was always immaculately dressed. He had three
daughters, one of whom had a son, Richard Young, who is a wellknown
photographer. My zeida (grandfather) also always looked very
smart; he was immaculately dressed and a thorough gentleman. He
would, without exception, pull my booba’s (grandmother’s) chair back
whenever she was about to sit down or get up, and he would stroke her
hair. I distinctly remember her pushing him away when he did this, but
she obviously loved it. She was a very beautiful woman.
My father was born in 1901, one of six children: Jack, Benny,
Barney, Sylvia and Millie were his siblings. My father’s first job
was at the Houndsditch Warehouse. Later, he became a renowned
bookmaker at the races and retired after 42 years. My father would
have his shoes made at Lobb’s; his hats at Lock & Co, St James’s
Street; his shirts at Turnbull & Asser on Jermyn Street; and his suits
in Savile Row at Kilgour, French & Stanbury. I saw a bill for one
suit for £13 and 13 shillings – today the same suit would be £3,500
to £4,000. When my father wanted new suits, he would give the old
ones to my zeida, who actually looked as good if not better in them
than my father!
During the war, I remember my father bought black market pens.
Booba said to him, “Never do it again. This is a wonderful country and
you must do nothing to harm it.” She did not approve and he never
did it again. After the war, he purchased a Packard Super Eight, a very
impressive American motor, and hired a chauffeur. One racing season
he won £100,000, equivalent to £10 million today. Regrettably, he also
lost similar amounts in other seasons. His seniority as a bookmaker
meant he had the best pitches at Ascot and Cheltenham. I remember
him taking me to the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the horses flying
over the big jumps. There was a massive influx of Irish priests at the
meet, all dressed in their Savile Row suits with dog collars. The image
of those priests remains in my head.
Then there was the Goodwood fortnight, during which there was
racing at Goodwood, Brighton and Lewes in the south of England. My
father would stay at The Grand Hotel in Brighton and would swim
every morning between the two piers – one of the piers is no longer
there. Each year, the bookies had a traditional swimming contest
between the piers. My father was a strong swimmer and always did
well. One of my father’s sisters, Millie, was the Middlesex champion at
swimming. I can swim, but not to their standard.
My mother died of breast cancer in 1939 when I was three years old.
Today, she would have lived longer because of advanced technology,
but not back then. My father never remarried. I remember visiting
my mother in hospital once, but mostly I remember her cooking in
the kitchen in our home in Sandhurst Court, on Sydney Street in the
East End. She was buried at Rainham Jewish Cemetery, a Federation
cemetery. Later, my father was buried at the same cemetery. Growing up,
talking about my mother was a delicate subject. She was not discussed.
I regret that now, but it was the war years, with everyone having their
own difficulties, plus her family became geographically quite dispersed.
My aunts looked after me and my sister, Helen. These were Aunt
Sylvia who was married to Sam, and Aunt Sophie, the wife of his
brother, Jack. We regularly visited the other aunts and uncles. There
was Aunt Millie who lived in Northampton. Her husband, Leslie,
was in cigarette manufacturing. He was from South Africa and was a
small man with quite an aggressive persona. Aunt Sylvia was a strongwilled
woman. She would stand up to him, not taking any of his
rudeness. There was an incident one Passover. We were all around for
dinner to celebrate and he began to speak unpleasantly. Aunt Sylvia
picked up a large plate of fish which she had cooked and turned to
us. “Children, we are going,” she said, and we walked out, fish plate
and all! Aunt Millie had two children and later they all went back to
Uncle Jack, Aunt Sophie’s husband, was a market trader. Uncle
Benny had an amusement arcade in Hastings. My father was wellknown
amongst the other Jewish bookmakers: Cyril Stein, Lou Medoza,
Jack Cohen, Percy Cohen, Ike Morris, Willy Preston, Bally Dyas, Gus
Demmy from Manchester and many, many more. In the morning, some
of them would meet at the Cumberland Hotel for coffee. I remember
there was a barber at the hotel where they would have a shave.
During the war, my grandparents moved to Northampton with Aunt
Sylvia where they lived for the remainder of their lives. Simon and Kate
kept their Russian name, Okenoff. They were buried along with Aunt
Sylvia in a non-Jewish cemetery, but in a small section bought by the
local Jewish community during the war. There are only some 60 Jewish
graves there. One of these belongs to Aunt Sophie’s baby boy, Brian.
He was nine months old when he swallowed a safety pin from his
napkin and died.
My father was the eldest child and when Aunt Sylvia became ill with
cancer, he took on the main responsibility to help. I can see my father
now, knocking on the doors of doctors, trying to find a specialist to
look after her, while I waited in his car in Harley Street. Eventually, it
became clear that it was an impossible situation. I remember he actually
said to me, “We’ve done our best.” My father was an admirable head
of the family.
As my mother died when I was young, her history is not as vivid
to me. I know her family were fishmongers who originally came from
Holland in 1768. It was Cromwell who brought the Jews over for the
weaving business, many of whom went to Manchester. My maternal
ancestors, however, settled in the East End of London and it was in
Whitechapel and Spitalfields where my grandparents, Henry and
Elizabeth Harris, lived. They had 10 children, maybe 11 as I believe
one may have died young.
My mother, Rose, was born in 1903, one of three daughters. She
had a brother, Uncle Solomon or ‘Solly’, who lived in Brighton. My
father told me I was named Sidney after my mother’s brother. Solly had
a son, Henry, who had two sons of his own. Henry’s sons both became
celebrated chefs and well-known London restauranteurs with their
establishments. Bibendum was one of the restaurants run by Matthew
and there was Racine run by Henry. Henry currently writes for The
Times newspaper. I believe they started in West Street in Brighton,
inspired by their mother who was a good cook.
My uncles were a mix of market traders, fabric and dress
manufacturers, amusement arcade owners and bookmakers. They were
duckers and divers, living by their wits. There was Uncle Mickey, a
bookmaker with betting shops in Reading; Uncle Jo and Uncle Harry,
who both moved to Peterborough during the war; Uncle Morry, a
tailor; and then Uncle Lou, a dealer in second-hand clothes.
Uncle Jo had two sons, Henry and Jeffrey. I would stay with them
in Peterborough during the school holidays. When cousin Henry from
Reading and I were older, I’d say in our early 20s, we enjoyed a trip
to Dublin together. Henry was taking out an Irish girl at the time.
We stayed at a smart hotel in the city and the dining room was full
of priests, all eating lobster and drinking champagne. Obviously, they
were all from wealthy Irish families where the first son took over the
family estate, the second son joined the army and son number three
went into the priesthood. It was a different world to our upbringing
back in London.
After the war had ended, Uncle Harry and Aunt Frances lived in
Blomfield Court opposite our home in Clifton Court and they had a
son, Michael Harris. Michael was a good boxer and rugby player and
would keep an eye out for me. He had two sisters, Helen and Hilary.
I was away at boarding school from the age of 9 to 13, so I did not
grow up around my mother’s family much. When war started, they
moved away, some to Reading, some to Peterborough. My sister, Helen,
who was eight years my senior, had more contact with my mother’s
family. She was friendly with Ro Ro and Bessie, Aunt Jessie’s daughters.
They moved to Blackpool during the war and we would visit them for
holidays. There was Aunt Tata, as we called her, who lived after the war
in Cunningham Court, opposite from us.
The family were split up during the war years. My booba’s brother,
Alec, had three daughters; one was called Lilly and she married
Uncle Lou. One of his daughters had a son, Richard Young, who is
one of the most well-known paparazzi today and has photographed
most of the famous film stars. The stars all trust him and he is
one of the only paparazzi allowed inside the restaurants and clubs
because he never uses their photographs without their permission.
The other paparazzi are made to wait outside. I am friends with
Richard to this day.
With my sister, Helen, and Mother
Father at the races
My father on Bournemouth Beach
Me at four years old
With my cousin, Henry
With my sister, Helen. I am aged 22
was born at Mother Levy’s, the Jewish Maternity Hospital in the
East End of London, on 27th March 1936. By 1939, my mother had
died and the Second World War had started. My sister and I moved in
with my father’s parents, Simon and Kate, our zeida and booba. They
lived behind the London Hospital on Commercial Road. There was
an Anderson shelter in their garden which was sometimes used as a
bomb shelter, but it was being in the tube station during an air raid
that I remember distinctly. It was very crowded down there, with many,
many people trying to sleep with blankets on the floor. A man was
playing an accordion and singing, I think to keep our spirits up rather
than busking for money as they do today.
London was not the best place to live during the war. My father was
made an air raid warden. His brothers, Jack, Benny and Barney, were
in the army in the artillery corps but did not partake in combat. On
my mother’s side, I do not really know what they did during the war to
earn a living. My father and his family decided we should all evacuate
to safety and Northampton was chosen as we already had family living
there. Firstly, we stayed with Aunt Sylvia, who rented a flat in the town
centre, before my father arranged for Helen and I to go to a boarding
school called York House. The fees were £13 a term. I remember the
school had problems getting payment from the other parents, even at
the price of £1 a week!
I was only four years of age when I went to York House School, Stony
Stratford. I settled into boarding school life reasonably well. It was a coeducational
school, so my sister Helen was there too. I remember there
was a shortage of food; if we were given a hard-boiled egg, it was only
one half of it. My father brought a box of chocolates for us on one of
his visits and all the chocolate pieces inside were also cut into halves.
I also remember that apples at school used to taste bitter because they
were cooking apples.
It was ‘double summertime’ – this was created for the farmers during
the war, meaning it was not dark until 10pm. I would be sent to bed at
6pm and, as I was only four, I would quickly fall asleep. For the older
children, there was a silence bell at 9pm. I remember once when this
silence bell woke me. The sun was still shining, so I climbed out of bed,
dressed myself and went down for breakfast. The teachers all laughed
and put me back to bed. I did not do that again.
We went on a school outing to the cinema. Octopuses on the
screen is all I remember of that film. We were only allowed one bath a
week, otherwise it was a quick basin wash. There was a music teacher,
Miss Murphy, who always wore a lavender dress and her strong smell
of mothballs still lingers in my memory. Another boy my age, Brian
Lewis, used to wet his bed. Our paths crossed again later in life as
Brian had a company which imported watches. When I joked with him
about his bedwetting, he laughed. We both understood that being so
young at boarding school was not easy.
One school holiday, my sister and I went to visit my mother’s sister,
Aunt Jessie, in Blackpool. Aunt Jessie, who was married to Uncle
George, was one of my Grandma Harris’ daughters. Her two daughters,
Ro Ro and Bessie, also visited us at the school. They took Helen and me
out for a picnic and we settled down in a field with high hay. Clearly,
we should not have been there as the farmer came and asked us, in no
uncertain terms, to leave. All these small details I remember.
After three years at York House, Helen and I left to stay with Aunt
Sophie and Uncle Jack, my father’s brother, who lived in a district of
Northampton called Spinney Hill. They did not have any children,
and my father’s work kept him in London as the races continued
during the war. I went to a local Catholic school called Notre Dame.
The nuns were very kind to us. I distinctly remember my father
speaking to the abbess so that my sister and I did not have to go to
prayers. I would travel to school on the public bus on my own, which
nowadays may seem a bit odd for a youngster aged eight, but those
were different times.
Aunt Sylvia had now moved from her flat into a house. My sister
and I would sleep there. Aunt Sylvia was a market trader with a stall
in Northampton twice a week. Interestingly, considering my future,
she sold jewellery. Booba and Zeida lived with Aunt Sylvia. Booba was
a very good cook and our Sunday lunch would often be her delicious
cholent. Zeida, who was a tailor, was not working then – he had retired.
I remember him coming down to light the coal fire in the living room.
When out, he would wear his homburg hat, raising it whenever he
passed by a lady. At Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, there was an
appeal at the synagogue where each person shouted out their donation.
My zeida donated five guineas, which was a lot of money in those days,
75 years ago.
As a family, we would visit the cinema in Northampton. At the
end of the movie, we would all stand and the national anthem would
play. I suspect then there was an organist playing live. I remember also
watching the Pathé News at the cinema, one of the ways to receive news
in those days.
When the war was over, we moved back to London. My father
rented a flat in Clifton Court, a Tudor-fronted building on the corner
of St John’s Wood Road and Maida Vale. Being a bookmaker can be a
precarious profession, but my father was successful enough to enjoy his
Savile Row suits and handmade shoes from Lobb’s. Needless to say, he
had his ups and downs.
Uncle Harry, my mother’s brother, and Aunt Frances lived opposite
in Blomfield Court with their three children, Hilary, Helen and
Michael. Cousin Michael was five years older than me, Cousin Helen
was eight years older and little Hilary was five years younger, all not
quite in my age range. My sister Helen was friends with Cousin Helen,
though. In Cunningham Court, also opposite from us, lived one of my
mother’s sisters, Aunt Tata. She was married to Uncle Kivvy and their
son, Harold, who was nearly my age.
On leaving the RAF, Uncle Kivvy had set up a dress shop in the
Elephant and Castle. My sister started working in the dress shop and
my father enrolled me into the Hasmonean Grammar School, a Jewish
school in Golders Green, as a boarding pupil. I was nine years old. The
school later bought a premises called ‘The Logs’ on Hampstead Heath.
I was a boarder from the age of 9 to 13. I was not particularly good
at bookwork or studies; sports became my strength. I enjoyed cricket
and was an all-rounder. I opened the bowling and was usually number
three batsman. Eventually, I played cricket for Middlesex Juniors and
finished up as the captain of Middlesex Boys.
At the age of 14, I was Middlesex champion for my age group
at running 440 yards. When I was 15 years old, the All England
Championships was at Port Sunlight, outside Liverpool. Our coach was
German; he was Jewish and had left Germany because of the problems
in 1936. His nickname was Paul ‘Yogi’ Meyer and he had been the
number one high jumper in Germany. I remember him distinctly. His
speciality was the eastern cut off, which we had never seen before. He
did a backward flip as opposed to in those days when you just did a
scissor jump. My schoolfriend, Ian Caplan, was an accomplished high
jumper and also Middlesex champion, but neither of us was allowed to
compete as the All England games were on the Shabbat. We knew to
accept this, being at a Jewish school. Ian and I remained good friends
until his passing years later.
I do not remember ever being on holiday with my father or my sister
during this time. Instead, each summer, I would go to summer school
in Seaford on the coast in East Sussex for a month. Cricket matches
were arranged with local teams and I played fairly well. Later on, we
played a match against Carmel College, a Jewish boarding school. I was
13 years of age, but was playing for the senior school. I was number
seven to bat. Well, our batting collapsed and it was not looking good.
I hit 87 not out and we won the match. Dr Schonfield, our principal at
school, was so impressed that he drove me back to London and bought
me strawberries and cream. I do not know why he chose strawberries
and cream, but I suppose it was kosher. Incidentally, he brought
children to the UK from Europe on the Kindertransport and after the
war continued to bring children from Poland and Germany to resettle
them here. Dr Schonfield was not only principal of our school, but was
an outstanding Jewish leader.
At Seaford Holiday Camp, aged 16
At the age of 13, I stopped boarding, moved back to Clifton Court
and became a day boy at the Hasmonean Grammar School until
age 16. Helen was 20 by now and she looked after my father, myself and
the flat. She was what I would call a nice cook. Helen was artistic and
went to art school. Unlike me, she was very blonde with blue eyes. She
loved the sun and she would sit on the balcony of the flat overlooking
Edgware Road to sunbathe. Helen and I were very close.
The Hasmonean Grammar School was in Holders Hill, Hendon.
I would take the bus to Golders Green and then another to Holders
Hill. It would take about 50 minutes each way. On the way back from
school, many pupils used to stop at Golders Green Station and stand
by the telephones boxes there, chatting to the girls from Downhurst
At 13, I had my bar mitzvah at the Bayswater Synagogue. The
synagogue is no longer there. My bar mitzvah was a small affair, with
just the family celebrating in our home at Clifton Court afterwards.
I had my second bar mitzvah aged 83, three score and ten years later, as
it says in the Bible, but more of that later.
At this time, I joined a Jewish youth club called Primrose. It was a
social club and we would meet during the evening in a big house on
Finchley Road. Sport was integral to the club and I played football and
cricket for them. I was chosen for the AJY, the Association of Jewish
Youth, the pick of sportspeople. I also played for the premier Jewish
football club, which was Wingate. A famous Tottenham Hotspur player
was coach, Mickey Dolin. I was only 15 and these were men of 20 and
25. I was in the third team.
The friends I made at school tended to be through sports and my
football team photo shows a few of them, but once I left school, my work
meant it was not easy to keep in touch. I went to one old boys’ event,
but the network did not seem to me to be very strong. Ian Caplan, as
I have said before, became a lifelong friend. Schooldays were a long
time ago and the lessons are a distant memory. I do remember one
teacher in particular, Mr Meyer, a German man who taught English
who was very strict. He pulled the hairs near our ears. There was a
Mr Franks who taught history. He unconsciously danced when he was
dictating to us, which would send us into hysterics, but mainly there
was an overemphasis on our religious studies.
I was not very interested in books and neither my father nor my
sister pushed me academically. Our ethos was to work and to make
a living. On the other hand, my wife, Carol, is extremely bright and
wanted to go to university, but her mother did not want her to go as
they wanted her at home, so instead, her first job was at Marks &
Spencer where she did extremely well in fashion. However, Carol found
the women rather catty. She left to join the Board of Guardians to help
Jewish people in distress. The day we became engaged, she left work!
House football team
Training at the Hasmonean School
When I was 16 years old, I left school. By then, Helen had married
Michael Green. While I cannot remember the ceremony, her
reception was at the Grosvenor Rooms, Walm Lane, and the caterer
was Johnnie Michaels. Helen’s husband, Mick as we called him, was a
good man. He had been a sales representative for a toiletry company
before joining forces with my Uncle Barney, my father’s brother. Uncle
Barney worked with my father at the races, but he was also a market
trader. Mick and Barney sold watches and jewellery, auctioning at the
markets. I had been thinking about working at Marks & Spencer, but
Mick asked me along to the market. I liked the freedom and the busy
atmosphere of the markets. There was a real excitement in gathering
a crowd, working them to buy our products (pitch, or auction as we
called it) and earning money to boot. Being a novice, I was not allowed
to pitch, but later I learnt how to sell!
We started in the south of England. We earnt a living, only just.
There was a lot of travelling and Mick drove a shooting brake. We
heard Wales was proving to be a good earner, so off we went. Our
first market was at Pontypridd and immediately it was a success. Our
watches sold for an average of £5. We began taking serious money,
£600 to £1,000 a day, equivalent to £15,000 in today’s money.
Eventually, Mick encouraged me to pitch too. I found this easy and
had a patter that made the crowds laugh. Now, we could split up and
cover two markets at the same time. I actually didn’t take a salary for
10 weeks and then, before Christmas, Mick gave me £1,000. Not bad
at 17 years of age.
Of the many characters working the markets, several come to mind
as particularly memorable. There was Prince Monolulu, a 6ft 6in-tall
African dressed head-to-toe in leopard skin and feathers. He was a racing
tipster in Petticoat Lane, selling tips for a winning horse. I distinctly
remember him shouting out, “I got a horse!” His saying became famous
among the crowd, as did he. Also in Petticoat Lane was the Strong
family who sold chinaware. To pitch and attract a crowd, they would
throw a full tea set high up in the air and let it come crashing down.
Obviously, they would use damaged unsaleable pieces. The noise, loud
and shattering, caught the crowd’s attention instantly.
Percy Cohen was another. From South Africa, he was always
immaculately dressed. He was what was called a ‘Funkun’ worker. He
sold fragrances and his company name was Pishers & Sons of Paris.
‘Pisher’ is a Yiddish word, and the translation is obvious.
I remember one mock-auctioneer, referred to by us as a ‘runout
worker’ because it was illegal. His name was Red-Faced Sam, for an
obvious reason. He had the most innocent baby face, would promise
the world and give you nothing – much the same as the many quack
doctors in the markets, all selling remedies claiming to cure every
ailment. Eckel and Peckel were also mock-auctioneers who always
seemed to get into trouble. They were a Jewish sales duo from
Manchester who were bad salesmen. Mick’s brother-in-law, Stephen
Jacobs, was working with me. He was a very tall man who wore a
bowler hat. We were in Nottingham and the crowd was not happy
with Eckel and Peckel. Seeing the anger growing, Stephen went into
the crowd saying, “I’m Inspector Jones. I’m here to take down all your
names and addresses.” The crowd were happy and Eckel and Peckel
were saved from a certain lynching.
Then there was Father Brown in the Abergavenny market. He
would dress in a monk’s habit and when he would cry out, “Let us
pray,” I remember seeing people go to their knees.
Our style in the markets was suit and tie: we were gentlemen
auctioneers. I would often have someone in the crowd to encourage the
bidding. A ‘rick’ was the slang term we used for this assistance. Dick
The Rick was good at his job and was very well-known. I used him for
several years, particularly in London.
It was about this time when my father took me to his tailors, Kilgour,
French & Stanbury in Savile Row, for my first suit. I particularly
wanted a Prince of Wales check. When it came time for my fitting,
Louis Stanbury looked at me and frowned. “The checks don’t match,”
he said. Then, in front of my eyes, he took a pair of scissors and cut
straight through the suit! In the end, I settled for a navy blue one.
When our son, Richard, married Marcelle, I kept up the tradition and
took him to Savile Row, although he went to Edward Sexton, who had
started as an apprentice under the famous Tommy Nutter.
Mick and I were on a roll, working markets across Wales. As well as
Pontypridd, we went to Maesteg, Caerphilly, Abergavenny and in the
summer to a Butlin’s holiday camp in Pwllheli. For our base, we stayed
at the Royal Hotel in Cardiff, the best hotel in the city. It cost us £1.25
a day as we had struck a deal with them at £8.75 per week. We would
work from Tuesday to Friday night, then the room was locked for the
two days we were not there, keeping our clothes and chattels safe.
Wales was attracting many other traders up from London. They
would catch the train from Paddington and get off at Cardiff Central.
They all stayed in a boarding house called The Barracks, probably a
nickname and you can guess why. They gave 10 shillings a day to stay
there. This is going back some 67 years.
Often staying at the Royal Hotel was a boxing manager, Benny
Jacobs. He was the manager of British Boxing champion Joe Erskine,
a Welshman. My interest in boxing had started at an early age when
my father would take me to the Albert Hall. I remember when I was
12 years old, he took me to see a fight with Al Philips, a Jewish fighter.
Al was winning against Alf Danahar – it was an eight-round fight
and my father, in his bookmaker voice, shouted out, “I’ll lay 100 to
8.” The response was strong: “I’ll take 1,000 to 80,” said a punter.
This was a lot of money 70 years ago. Al was suddenly knocked to the
floor in the last round, but instead of taking the count to eight or nine,
Al immediately jumped up. His pride had got the better of him. The
referee stopped the fight as Al clearly was unable to defend himself. My
father lost £1,000 and was obviously very upset as Al virtually threw
From those early days with my father, I have always had an interest
in boxing. There used to be a club in Finchley Road called El Torro
run by Barry Huntman. His uncle was the boxing manager, Sonny
Huntman. Sonny represented an Israeli boxer, one of the first to come
over to England. He was due to fight at the Albert Hall. Sonny asked
me to give the boxer a lift to the fight as I was in one of our shops in
Piccadilly Circus. The Israeli boxer was staying at the Regent Palace
Hotel, which was also in Piccadilly Circus. When I collected the boxer,
he had a terrible cold; he could not stop sneezing. I thought to myself,
this is not a good sign. At the hall, most of the spectators around the
ring were Jewish. The Israeli boxer was clearly the favourite, with the
Star of David on his shorts. I bet on the opposing fighter. They all
thought I was a traitor. The Israeli, despite his cold, was winning for a
while. I was having kittens, but eventually, he lost narrowly on points.
Boxing became a light relief from business for me, but occasionally
it turned nasty out of the ring. A promoter, Jarvis Astaire, had a fight
booked for a famous American boxer called Marvin Hagler. He was
set to fight the world champion, Terry Downes, a British boxer, at the
Albert Hall. This British boxer announced to the press, “No black man
is going to take my title.” At the fight, there were Union Jacks everywhere
and Downes wore boxing shorts made of Union Jacks. The National
Front had turned up in force. However, Hagler was an extremely strong
man and he destroyed the world champion. The National Front began
hurling bottles and we all took refuge underneath the ring. It was
frightening. Hagler held the world title for seven years after that fight.
In Wales, at Pontypridd Market, the person who erected my stall
was a young Tom Jones. I would pay him five shillings. He remembered
it many years later when our paths crossed again, but more of that later.
There was another fledgling singer in Cardiff. At the time, I was taking
out a girl called Shirley Turner. She had a friend who worked in Boots
the chemist on Queen Street. She asked if her friend could come with
us to the cinema, which I agreed to. Her friend’s name was Shirley
Bassey. Shortly afterwards, Shirley Bassey secured her first job in Al
Reed’s Black and White Minstrel Show. She lived in Tiger Bay where
there was a restaurant which I used to frequent. The three of us went
out for dinner again and by this time Shirley Bassey had become a local
star. She did have a fantastic voice.
We began to have our own watches manufactured. They were made
for us by a company named Louis Newmark, associated with the Avia
brand. We called our watches RobLloyd. This was a combination of
the names of Mick’s two sons, Robert and Lloyd.
At the time, my centre was Liverpool where, among other markets,
I worked Birkenhead. I would stay at The Lord Nelson Hotel, just
behind the Liverpool Empire. One of the top stars at the Empire was
Hylda Baker. She had a popular catchphrase, best heard in her broad
Yorkshire accent: “She knows, you know.” We started to chat in the
hotel as she sipped her way through more than a couple of gin and
tonics, all paid for by me. She was in her 60s or older, and after that
first evening, she would come looking for me, asking at reception,
“Is Mr Symons around?” I have to admit, I suggested she perhaps
introduced me to the girls from the chorus in her show. She did,
keeping a stream of possibilities heading my way while I sent large gin
and tonics her way.
Liverpool was very interesting. There was Bold Street and the
Kardomah restaurant. Later on, I had taken an apartment in Lord
Nelson Street. Brian Epstein, the manager of The Beatles, had a
flat at the same premises. Brian Epstein’s family had an electrical
shop, Nems, which also sold musical instruments. I saw The Beatles
perform at The Cavern. They were good but very rough, needing
artistic polish. I enjoyed their songs, but at the time Gerry and The
Pacemakers and Cilla Black were hotter tickets; all were managed
Liverpool was also interesting because of the ladies of the city, or
rather the ladies were interesting to me. There were a few and I was
young. About six weeks after one brief encounter, I was at home in
London at Danescroft Avenue when a man in a striped suit and bowler
hat approached me. He asked if my name was Sidney Symons. “Yes,”
I replied. “Sir, I am here to inform you that you have been named in
the divorce case between…” The rest became a blur. I was terrified.
I went to see my solicitor, Alfred Kirstein, affectionately known as ‘the
Old Fox’. The Old Fox spent what seemed like an hour telling me about
the time he defended a man who tried to assassinate King George V in
Hyde Park using a handgun.
“In those days,” Alfred said, “to be found guilty at the Old Bailey,
you needed a total majority of 12 on the jury verdict. Just one vote
could save your life.” That one man on the jury wore a black knitted tie
and Alfred won his defence.
“So,” he turned to me finally to ask, “are you a virgin?”
I shook my head.
“Forget about this divorce case,” he said, as he pushed the papers
away. That was the end of the matter.
Before I was married, it is true to say I was more than interested in
girls. We lads became what you would call Stage Door Johnnies. Once,
my father took our family to the London Hippodrome to see Sophie
Tucker. She was 85 years old but still the all-time American musical
star. The chorus girls came on first and my father, sister, brother-in-law
and myself were sat in the front row. To my utter embarrassment, the
chorus girls all stopped and looked at me. “Well, hello, Sidney,” they
giggled. My father gave me the biggest mouthful of my life!
When I was 23, a boy came to work for me in Chorley. From
Manchester, Frankie Cohen was then 17 years old. He later joined
Harold Behrins and together they had a wallpaper business which
became so successful it went public. Frankie’s wife’s father was an
art collector and he encouraged his son-in-law to learn the business.
They bought paintings from a fellow Mancunian for as little as £10–
£15 a canvas. The artist was LS Lowry. Frankie has become one of
the leading collectors in modern art, with a gallery and warehouse in
Walsall, exhibiting around the world. I saw one of his exhibitions at
Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
I remained in Manchester for a little while, staying at The Midland
Hotel. A group of us would meet up at the Kardomah coffee shop in
Queen Street. There were a lot of characters there. Most of them were
not keen on the Londoners as they thought we were snobs, but luckily,
they considered me as one of them.
A certain Sammy Bookbinder springs to mind, an excitable fellow.
He had a successful supermarket, but an Indian man opened a little
grocery shop opposite. Sammy Bookbinder spoke to a man who went
by the name Russian Dave. A little paraffin would see things sorted
for the right price. However, Russian Dave used petrol instead, causing
a major explosion. Russian Dave wore cowboy boots with heels; they
were very distinctive. The explosion was so big it blew Russian Dave
right out of his boots! One of his boots was found at the scene of the
crime, providing clear evidence for the police investigation. Russian
Dave and Sammy Bookbinder were both sent down for 10 years. It was
the talk of Manchester.
The police officers from Liverpool Street Station were often
around in Petticoat Lane. They were all over 6ft tall. They would
stand behind the market stall and we would shake their hands and
exchange a few words. It was standard practice to give them five
shillings. It was not considered a bribe, just a small insurance in case
there was ever any trouble.
On Sunday mornings, when I was back in London, I would work
in Petticoat Lane. An average take there would be around £600, and
going back 65 years, that was a lot of money. Petticoat Lane always
reminds me of my Grandma Harris. She lived on Wentworth Street
and would sit at her window looking out at the buzz of activity. The
locals knew she would be sat in her armchair in a long black skirt
which reached down to the floor. Underneath her skirt, she always
had a bottle of gin and half a dozen bottles of Guinness. That was her
enjoyment, her pleasure.
My sister Helen and Mick had by now bought a house in
Danescroft Gardens in Hendon, just behind what used to be the
Brent Bridge Hotel.
At the market at 18 years old
At Pontypridd Market
It was 1960 and I was 24 years of age. I was now an equal partner
with my brother-in-law Mick. We wanted to move into retail – to
have our own shops. We found a small kiosk in Piccadilly Circus and
set up business. We called it Eros Jewellers. The rent was £13,000 per
year. This included two flat advertising hoardings on either side. From
our market days, I had made friends with Peter Goldstein who in
turn had the ear of the owner of Avia watches. Avia was a well-known
Swiss brand. They agreed to rent our two boards for advertisements
for exactly £13,000 per year, and rather than quarterly payments,
I asked for the money up front and they paid it. Basically, we were up
for none – a good deal! Avia continued to rent the two hoardings for
the next five years.
We soon opened another two shops in Piccadilly: Piccadilly Jewellers
and Green & Symons. The latter we chose to use as our corporate
name. The Green & Symons shop we had taken over from Saqui and
Lawrence who were famous jewellers owned by H. Samuel. H. Samuel
was owned by the Edgar family, a typically English company, but
Jewish. I knew Anthony Edgar, the chairman. He told me they could
not make the Saqui and Lawrence shop pay. “If you can, good luck
to you!” We were newcomers to retail shops and that particular shop
was in a prominent position in Piccadilly, right on the Circus. The
landlords were the Land Securities Group, owned by Lord Samuel.
True to form, my soon-to-be wife, Carol, was friendly with Marion
Naggar, Lord Samuel’s daughter, and her husband, Guy Naggar. Guy
spoke on our behalf to assure the landlord that we would be perfectly
capable of paying the rent and he let us have the shop. That was the
beginning of a long association with Land Securities.
My father had brought me up to dress well and I followed in his
footsteps by wearing only Savile Row suits. I would have my shoes made
by McLaren’s in Jermyn Street at 22 guineas a pair and my shirts were
made by Frank Foster in Clifford Street. One of the best shoemakers
at the time was Cleverley; his shoes were 30 guineas. I asked Frank
Foster to see if he could get Cleverley to make me a pair and he said,
“Yes, but he’ll want you to pay up front.” Back then, when everything
was bespoke, you would often not have to pay until years later. “Fine,”
I said. Cleverley’s shop was in Dover Street. A very tall, well-spoken
Englishman measured me carefully. I had never had a brown pair of
shoes before, so that was what I wanted. I returned to my jewellery shop
in Piccadilly Circus and within half an hour I received a telephone
call. It was Mr Cleverley. “Mr Symons,” he said. “You ordered a pair of
brown shoes. They aren’t really suitable for a Jewish boy!” Savile Row
did not make brown suits and clearly Cleverley did not make brown
shoes. He made me a black pair and I still have them today.
Green & Symons eventually had four jewellery shops in Piccadilly
Circus. The business was jewellery and watches. We kept one of the
shops open 24 hours a day to cater to the casinos where people gambled.
In those days, you could open one minute after midnight because it
was the next day. Trading laws said we could not trade between 8pm
and midnight, but we did and nothing ever happened.
Our portfolio of shops grew. The most successful shop was one
we took over from Orient Jewellers next door to the Cumberland
Hotel, Marble Arch. Another was at 69 Oxford Street, the Tottenham
Court end. I bought the lease from a friend, Dennis Hirsh, who had
been running it as a clothing shop. The rent was £20,000 per year.
We rented the basement to a dentist for £15,000. Sometime later, the
landlords approached us to buy the shop back. They offered us £60,000.
The shop was at the wrong end of the street to be successful, so we
jumped at the offer.
There was an old gypsy woman who used to come into the 69 Oxford
Street shop. I know she also visited the health club at the Dorchester
Hotel on Ladies’ Day each Thursday to give palm readings. She had a
particular hankering for gold sovereigns and would often buy one, but
she could not help herself – she would steal more than she paid for.
Old habits. She would take them from the display tray into her bag
and each time I would put my hand into that bag and take them back.
One day, I unknowingly took out more sovereigns from her bag than
she had stolen and we showed a profit!
Speaking of profits, and not referring to my small gain from the
gypsy woman, Mick and I were doing OK and when we sold 69 Oxford
Street back to the landlord, I wanted to buy a Rolls-Royce. The dealer
showed me two. I said, “I’ll take the two,” and the dealer nearly
collapsed! One was for me and the other for Mick. They were £11,000
each, the price of a house. We kept them both for two years and then
sold them for £12,000 each. A Rolls-Royce in those days held its price.
We replaced them with two further Rolls-Royces.
On Oxford Street, we had shared a lease with a man called Jeffrey
Wallis who had womenswear shops. Number 360 was a large unit,
so we split it into two. That was another success. We eventually sold
it on to a tobacconist for £500,000. We were becoming quite the
The Cumberland Hotel wanted to take the shop we had bought
from Orient Jewellers to develop another entrance, so we moved to a
big unit seven doors down. That was a difficult shop and thankfully
we sold it on to Ralph Halpern to set up a Burton store. Believe it or
not, we received £500,000 for that premises. It felt as though we were
making more money from properties than from retail.
One of the strengths of our shops in Piccadilly Circus was that the
shops were buying in shops. One shop stayed open late. Surrounded by
casinos, one of which was named after the comedian Charlie Chester,
the Piccadilly shop became a favourite with those needing extra cash
for the tables. We had an intercommunication line between three shops
in the area. If a customer would come in with a Rolex watch to sell,
we might offer £250. They were, of course, welcome to try elsewhere.
If they left, down the intercom we would say, “A possible Rolex on its
way” and our next shop would offer £245. Usually, eager to get back to
the gaming tables, they would accept the lower price. At our all-night
shop, however, we would offer to lend them the money, and if they won
at the casino, they could buy back their watch at 10% interest.
We added a shop next door to Bond Street Underground Station.
This attracted an expanding clientele. One in particular was a lady
called Cynthia, the wife of the by then successful singer, Tom Jones.
The manager of our Bond Street shop was a handsome, good-looking
fellow. We nicknamed him Handsome John and Cynthia was a very
regular client. Tom Jones was not a happy man about this and there
was an altercation between him and the manager, which I was called
in to resolve. I banned him from the Bond Street store. There was no
ill will between us and for years afterwards, Tom Jones was a client,
buying his heavy gold bracelets, neck chains and iconic crosses, but
not at the Bond Street shop – he used our Piccadilly branch instead.
Cynthia never returned as a client.
One of our assistants in the Bond Street shop was Ian Goldstein.
His father was well-known among the Jewish fraternity as a smoked
salmon curer. Ian was a hippy, wearing high boots and leather-fringed
jackets, though it was a regulation dark suit that he wore for work.
One busy Christmas Eve, he said to me, “Mr Symons, what time are
we closing?” I looked him hard in the eye, “When we stop taking the
money because tomorrow is Christmas Day.” Ian and I still joke about
that today. Ian is now retired, but he did go into his father’s smoked
salmon business. Easier hours than the retail industry, I suspect.
We were expanding and that was expensive business, so we needed to
borrow money from the bank. Our bank was Barclays and, at that time,
our borrowings were near to the £1 million mark. 60 years ago, that was
a lot of money. Back then, the bank managers had flexibility and could
make decisions up to a high level. All that has changed now. One day,
Carol and I were invited to a fancy-dress party and I found a postman’s
hat in the showroom of Angels, a classic costume supplier to theatre and
film companies. On the way back to the office, I had to see the manager
at Barclays, my postman hat under my arm. The manager deliberated,
unable to give me a decision. I took the hat and put it on his head. “I’d
like to take a photograph of you, the messenger boy.” He had reached his
corporate limit; there was no more money release coming from him. To
give him his due, he took the postman hat in good humour.
In the end, we had 96 outlets in department stores and shops all
over the country. We employed eight area supervisors. Each supervisor
oversaw ten outlets. When video cameras came out, we supplied each
supervisor with one. They would video the stores, cupboards, displays,
lightbulbs and even the toilets to make sure they were spotless. Then,
once a month, we would have meetings and they would run their videos
and we would discuss the viewings in detail. You could say it was the
early days of discipline for our retail jewellery outlets.
I had offices in Piccadilly above the Green & Symons shop. I enjoyed
the wide variety of characters I would see in the West End. Cyril comes
to mind. With the true swagger of Soho, he would sing and dance on the
street. Outside the shop was a charity collection box with a statue of a
pretty disabled girl. Every morning, I would see Cyril empty all his pocket
change into the collection box. He was an extremely generous man.
When he died, they closed off Berwick Street and Shaftesbury Avenue for
his coffin to pass by. I wonder if Jimmy Logie received a tribute as fitting.
Logie had been a boyhood hero of mine, a great Arsenal footballer during
the 1940s and 1950s. Years later, from the window of my Piccadilly office,
I would see him selling papers on the cold West End streets.
Marble Arch had its share of characters too. There was Bernard
who was a pleasant Jewish newspaper seller, often giving my children
comics. I would occasionally give him a cigar, which he loved. Then, on
a Sunday morning, he would go into Hyde Park at Speakers’ Corner,
stand on a box and berate people – not quietly, I must add. He would
wind people up, be very antagonistic and if he saw an Arab…well, you
do not want to know.
All the shops, watches and jewellery could only lead to a temptation
of a different kind: robberies. We had a few. One man came into the
shop in Piccadilly Circus with a carrier bag full of cotton wool soaked
in paraffin. He lit his cigarette, threw the match into his bag and
whoosh. Huge flames. He snatched a tray of rings and ran out. Someone
shouted, “Thief!” and outside, a man rugby tackled him and brought
him down. Luckily, the fire did not damage the shop.
Another robbery was at our main Green & Symons shop. There was
a cinema next door and thieves tunnelled from the cinema into the
shop and took £75,000 worth of goods. I was called out and arrived to
find the local detectives also helping themselves to our jewellery. Savile
Row detectives! I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Come on guys, put
the goods back.” And they did.
From robbers to gangsters, we had our share. When we first opened,
a couple of heavy men came in. “We’ll look after you, see there’s no
trouble,” they said, obviously expecting protection money. I pointed to
our security cameras. “Smile for the camera. It’s linked to the Savile
Row police station.” Their language was explosive, but they left emptyhanded
and they never came back to that shop.
Talking about gangsters, my father being a bookmaker meant he
came across a lot of questionable people. The top gangster in London
at the time was Jack Comer, or ‘Jack Spot’, as he was known. He was
Jewish and part of the demonstration that stopped Oswald Mosley
walking through Cable Street in the East End in 1936. Jack Spot was on
nodding terms with my father. One day, he asked, “Lou, can you give
Hymie a job?” Hymie was Jack’s right-hand man, very small, very dapper,
an ex-boxer. His name was Hymie Rosen but he was known as ‘Hymie
the Hammer’, which tells you exactly what he used to do for his boss.
Obviously, my father had no choice at all in the matter. Hymie, in fact,
turned out to be a gentleman with the public, but with the gangsters it
was a different matter. He worked for my father for 28 years.
One man at the races was very upset and poured sugar into my
father’s petrol tank. Hymie spotted him in action and quickly dealt with
the matter. I also remember in Cardiff, I played cards against a London
team. I was losing money and then realised it was a crooked game.
I refused to pay. They knew who my father was and approached him
at the races for the money they claimed I owed them. Hymie stepped
into the frame and I never heard another word. When my father died,
I paid Hymie what money was due to him, plus his redundancy.
50 years ago, credit cards were a novelty and many shops would
not take them. At the time, we used to sell Dunhill lighters, £7 and 7
shillings for silver plate or £8 and 8 shillings for gold plate. Today, their
price is about £175. Visitors from Japan went into Dunhill’s in Jermyn
Street and asked for 100 of their lighters. The same lighters sold for
three times the price in Japan. Dunhill was happy to oblige, until the
Japanese produced their credit cards. Dunhill refused to accept the
cards for payment, but said they knew of a shop who would: Green &
Symons in Piccadilly who stocked Dunhill lighters. In they came, ready
to buy, but we only stocked a dozen. I phoned Dunhill to acquire the
100 lighters, sent a member of staff to collect them and the Japanese
paid us by credit card. We could not believe how old-fashioned Dunhill
were back then, sending a client to us who spent £800.
The first Green & Symons shop in Piccadilly Circus
The second Green & Symons shop, Piccadilly Circus
The Green & Symons shop in Basildon
Carol, Children and Castles
When we had the shops in Piccadilly Circus, I lived with Helen,
Mick, their children and my father in Danescroft Avenue.
Helen and Mick had three children: Robert, Lloyd and Simon. Lloyd
and Simon passed away some time ago now. Lloyd did marry, but I will
come to that later. Robert also married and has two children. The
house was in Danescroft Gardens, Hendon, and a few doors down
lived a skinny, scrawny girl, eight years younger than me. I never took
much notice of her. Her name was Carol Freedman.
When I was 27, I was driving past Holders Hill in the red Jaguar
I drove at the time. At the bus stop by the Brent Bridges Hotel, I saw
this stunning, tanned, beautiful girl. I pulled up and used an oldtime
ploy. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but there aren’t any buses
today. They’re on strike. If you like, I could give you a lift?” Right on
cue, a double-decker bus appeared at the top of the hill. “Don’t you
recognise me?” she laughed. I apologised as she entered the car. It
was, of course, Carol.
The following evening, we went out for a date. It was late 1963.
I took her to a smart restaurant on the King’s Road. She wore a white
ermine stole. She later told me she had borrowed it from her friend,
Miriam. This was a good sign. She must have been interested enough
in me to make an effort to look her best. She captured me on that
We subsequently went out on several dates. I remember on one, she
was told to be back by 11pm. True to form, her father was waiting for
her outside when I brought her home – at 11pm, I would like to add.
In January 1964, I went on holiday with two friends of mine,
Malcolm Friedman (no relation to Carol) and Harvey Singer who was
from Manchester. We rented a flat in Miami. Being a boys’ holiday,
girls were very much in the minds of my two friends, but not for me. A
certain someone back home in England had taken my interest.
A highlight of the holiday was seeing Cassius Clay fight against the
World Champion, Sonny Liston. Cassius Clay won the title. Previously,
we saw a match with a wrestler called Gorgeous George. He walked
into the ring wearing a large cloak and was accompanied by a butler
who sprayed him with cologne. Gorgeous George was positively abusive
to the crowd and they loved it. Many years later, Muhammad Ali, as
he had now become known, said he had watched Gorgeous George on
occasions and noted how rude he was to his opponent and the crowd.
It had electrified the match, so he thought he would try the same.
Having realised how much I missed Carol while I was away,
I returned to England with resolve. “I am going to marry you,” I said
to her. She said yes.
I did ask Carol’s father for his permission. In those days, I suppose
I came across as the Jack the Lad of Danescroft Gardens. I had a flashy
car. I do not think her father was keen on me taking her out, let alone
marrying her. His response was better than I had expected. “Do you
have the means to support my daughter?” With all my hard work over
the last 10 years, I could confidently confirm that I would look after
Six months later, we were married. Carol was 21. The religious
ceremony was at the Norrice Lea synagogue and the reception was held
at The Savoy Hotel. It was a grand affair. We stayed in the Honeymoon
Suite, quite sumptuous with a private staircase leading from the
ballroom to our suite. The bill for the suite was £21, or 20 guineas.
Helen’s husband, Mick, was my best man and Carol’s uncle, Bert,
also spoke at the wedding reception. Bert Perkoff was a notable solicitor.
He defended Jack Spot, the aforementioned gangster, following a fight
with Albert ‘Italian’ Dimes in Old Compton Street. The case went up
to the Old Bailey and Perkoff Solicitors found a priest to testify in the
box. The priest swore on oath that Italian Dimes had been the attacker,
not Jack Spot, and the case was dismissed. Later, it was proven that the
priest had lied.
Many years later, Carol and I returned to The Savoy to celebrate our
50th wedding anniversary. We took the children and the rest of the
family. Carol wore her wedding dress. After all those years, the dress
still fitted her like a glove. The children loved it. She wanted to change
for dinner, but they insisted she stay in her dress. I went to reception
later and showed them the old receipt for the Honeymoon Suite. The
charge was 21 guineas. They told me it would cost me £2,500 now for
the night. They were amused that Carol had kept the receipt for so long.
Our honeymoon was an extravagant affair, with five weeks of
holiday starting in Israel. We stayed at the Arcadia Hotel in Herzliya,
which has not changed one bit since. I was not terribly happy with it.
The Federman family owned it then. They also owned the Dan Hotel
in Tel Aviv, which we looked at, but decided to stay put. From the
Arcadia, we visited Jerusalem. On our way, we were stopped by a group
of construction workers who told us they were about to dynamite the
road. “If you hang on a moment,” the main man said, “it’ll be funny.”
Bang went the explosion, and all the Palestinian workers went running
for their lives.
In Jerusalem, we stayed at the King David Hotel opposite the
YMCA. From the top terrace, you could see the Wailing Wall, but you
couldn’t get to it. It was 1964 and controlled by Jordan. That was before
the Six-Day War in 1967.
It was a limited viewing of Israel then, but I remember flying on
the Israeli El Al Airline over the land and the hostess saying, “If you
look down now, you will see the green of Israel, and then you will see
the sand of the Arab countries.” It was a stark lesson in the difference
between the technology of Israel and the backwardness of the Arab
nations at that time.
We also took a bus journey to Eilat, a six-hour trip through the desert.
On the way, we stopped at Sde Boker, where Ben-Gurion lived, just for a
look around. The Queen of Sheba was the only hotel in Eilat. I remember
asking a waiter for a gin and tonic and him saying to me, “But you had
one 20 minutes ago.” That is how things were in Israel then.
We then went on to Rome and stayed at the Excelsior Hotel. Carol
loved the shopping there; it was inexpensive at the time. We were in a
taxi and the traffic was so bad, we told the driver we would walk the
rest of the way to the hotel. All those years ago, Rome was in gridlock.
Back home, we bought our first house in Bryanston Mews opposite
Seymour Hall Swimming Pool and Sports Centre. We became friends
with many people who lived in the mews. There was Cyril Green,
who manufactured the shirts called ‘Tern’. Next door to us lived Alex
Wilson whose mother opened the first washing machine launderette
in London on Queensway. There was also Donald Nelson, a solicitor.
He and I have been pals for many years, and we bought our next homes
next door to each other. We also enjoyed various holidays with Cyril
Green and Yvonne, to Athens, Venice and Kitzbühel.
At the end of the mews was a man, originally an osteopath, who
later committed suicide. His name was Stephen Ward and he lived with
two women, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davis. I was not aware
of what was going on, but when the police arrested him, the Profumo
Affair broke. It was a major case and brought down the government.
I used to take a taxi to the office in Piccadilly every day. One day,
I had a phone call from Gravesend Police Station. They had my car,
which had been stolen from our garage in the mews. Bearing in mind
I would get taxis to work, they were astounded to have had it for six
weeks without me reporting it missing.
We were at Bryanston Mews for three years and had two children
there. Richard, our eldest, was born in 1965. Next was David in 1966.
Richard was born in The London Clinic. Carol’s gynaecologist was
Jack Suchet. His two children later found fame on television. David
starred in Poirot, the television series which lasted 25 years, and the
other, John, was a newscaster. I was in the room with Carol just before
she had our first baby. Her mother was there too. Jack Suchet walked
in and said, “Here, we don’t allow the mothers of our mothers-to-be.”
He asked Carol’s mother to leave. From that day on, she never spoke to
him again. Jack Suchet delivered all our children.
We were also friends with another lawyer, Alan Lorenz, whose
mother was a fashionable milliner, Mitzi Lorenz. Mitzi and her
Hungarian husband would have luncheons on a Sunday with many
guests, including ourselves and the Suchets, so we were able to know
them all on a social level too. I had been introduced to Alan Lorenz
by my previous solicitor, Alfred Kerstein, the Old Fox from my laddish
days in Liverpool. Alfred was due to retire and Alan came highly
recommended. Alan’s company, Lorenz and Jones, have looked after
my legal affairs for the last 63 years.
There were often boxing events at Seymour Hall opposite the mews
promoted by Benny Smidt Boder, who was later a member of St John’s
Wood Synagogue. I began to know Benny better from holidays in
Israel, and in the end, we owned three racehorses together, but I’ll
come to that later. One part of our house was on Bryanston Mews,
the other part was on Seymour Place. For the events, we would have
some 40 to 50 coaches pulling up outside our home. Carol would stand
outside, making a coach move along and immediately another would
take its place. It was a futile exercise on her part.
We had a white West Highland dog called Okey, short for my family
name, Okenoff. Cyril Green next door had a black West Highland.
The dogs used to go on their own for walks. Together, they looked like
the Johnnie Walker black and white advert!
Carol was soon pregnant again and we needed a larger home. We
had bought the mews house for £13,000 and sold it for £21,000. We
sold it to Anthony Speelman, a dealer in Dutch art whose major client
was Paul Getty, the oil magnate who had the Getty museum in Los
Angeles, California. Afterwards, we became friends and have remained
so for 50 years.
It was 1969. We were by now very friendly with our neighbours,
Donald and Cheryl Nelson, and together we found two adjoining
houses on Elm Tree Road, St John’s Wood. The developer was Sir
Louis Gluckstein, one of the family of J. Lyons and Co. The houses had
sat empty for two years – that wouldn’t have happened today, of course.
They were £31,000 and Donald and I bought one each. We now had
our larger family home, with five bedrooms and four bathrooms. We
threw a housewarming party and invited all our family and friends as
well as Sir Louis and Lady Gluckstein who lived next door. When we
introduced them to one of Carol’s uncles, he was so impressed that he
bowed to Sir Louis! He must have thought he was meeting the king
of England. After some time living at the property, I became aware
that Sir Louis, who was over 80 years of age, had an attachment to a
schoolteacher who lived opposite. I can see them now, sitting in a small
Morris Minor car outside her house, holding hands in the dark.
Between our two houses was a communal drive we shared with
the Nelsons. One day, I parked my car blocking the entrance to our
separate garages behind. Donald was annoyed and let down two of my
tyres. I caught him in the act and chased after him. I lost my temper.
Carol’s mum, who was visiting, ran up to intervene. I swung a punch
and instead of hitting Donald I caught Carol’s mum. I was not in her
best books. Donald and I managed to resolve our differences and
remained close friends.
Our first daughter, Louise, was born and then came Laura who was
born in the Lindo Wing, a private hospital next to St Mary’s Hospital,
Carol decided she wanted to move. Her father had died and she was
depressed. So, we bought a larger house with a short lease in Cavendish
Avenue. We only stayed there for two years. One of our neighbours,
two doors away, was Paul McCartney. He would play his music at the
end of his garden and we would hear it every night. He had a large dog,
a hound. This hound would jump over the fences into our garden and
our housekeeper, Daphne, who eventually worked for us for over 45
years, would feed him. No wonder he was so keen on our garden! Our
next-door neighbour was a man called Nat Fenton. He opened one of
the first casinos in London, ending up with a chain of major casinos
which he sold to Mecca. I subsequently sold the Cavendish property
to Harvey and Angela Soning. He loved the house and we have been
friends with them for the last 45 years.
Next, we bought a short lease on 3 Norfolk Road. We lived there
for 15 years and subsequently bought a 99-year lease from the Eyre
Estate for £250,000. Norfolk Road always had parking problems. One
side of the road was in Westminster, the other was in Camden. Our
problem was that all the children were grown up and we had seven
cars, all provided by me, to be parked nearby. There were yellow lines
outside our house. Carol made me buy some black paint and, under
duress, I painted over the yellow lines. When the police came around
to question this strange graffiti, Carol denied all knowledge of it. Due
to our parking dilemma, the traffic wardens were trouble too. Carol
enjoyed gardening at the front of the house, but her water hose had a
mind of its own when a traffic warden happened to wander by. The
hose would suddenly spray over the wall, drenching the warden from
head to foot!
Carol has always been mischievous – she still is. We had some
friends, Ian and Jennifer Rosenberg, who bought a house from Edward
Seiff (of Marks & Spencer) in Queen’s Grove. Edward Seiff wanted
to move as he’d had a Palestinian terrorist knock on his front door
there. The man shot him in the mouth. Seiff paid thanks to his dentist
– the bullet ricocheted off his teeth and saved his life. Jennifer had
started work at M&S at the same time as Carol. Carol arranged for
a sign to be fitted outside their house in Queen’s Grove. It read: ‘Bed
& Breakfast. Cheap Rates.’ Ian was a prankster too, so enjoyed the
fun. Then, Jennifer was giving a luncheon party and Carol found a
very large pair of women’s bloomers and hung them on a washing line
outside their windows.
On holiday in Tenerife, aged 22
On holiday in Miami, aged 27
Steak dinner in Miami, 1963
Carol’s mother and father
On our honeymoon in Israel
On our honeymoon in Italy
In Rome, on our honeymoon
On our honeymoon in Rome
Out for dinner
Louise, Lauren and Carol
In 1968, we opened in Debenhams in Oxford Street, selling jewellery.
We took nearly £1 million a year in the store. Bear in mind that
Debenhams’ total store take was £26 million. We were very important
to them, on top of which we were paying them 27% of our take.
Green & Symons now had some 700 staff, with retail outlets in
England, Wales and Scotland. To pacify Carol, I had taken on a
multitude of Carol’s aunts as well as her mother, Ray. Ray worked
for us in the shop next to the Cumberland Hotel. She was terrific
at sales, but very untidy and needed two assistants to tidy up after
her. On one occasion, it was her birthday and I hired an actor. We
gave him a whisky bottle filled with black tea. He staggered into the
shop and said he wanted to buy a diamond ring. The other assistants
refused to serve him and asked him to leave. Then he pulled a boodle
prepared by me out his pocket. A boodle is a roll of paper with a few
£5 notes rolled around the outside to give the impression it could
be £1,000. Ray told the other staff, “Not to worry – I’ll handle this.”
She placed the customer’s whisky bottle to one side and began to
At this point, I walked in. “What is going on?” I asked.
“Don’t worry, I have this all under control,” Ray replied.
I watched her for a moment, then said, “There’s no way we’re
allowing this man in our shop unless he can sing a song to you!”
The actor gave a thumbs-up-governor and proceeded to sing, “Hello
Booba, well hello Booba, it’s so good to see you looking swell.” Ray
realised we had set her up, laughed and took it well. Carol and the
children, who had been hiding outside the shop, all came in and it was
a very happy birthday to Booba all round.
One day, I was up north in Newcastle to check up on an outlet we
had in Binns Department Store. On the High Street, I saw a jewellery
shop with a big sign: ‘Half-price jewellery’. The place was heaving. All
the products were displayed showing their original and discounted
price. Seeing this made me consider my company’s method of trading.
Back in London, I decided we should move into half-price jewellery
and Piccadilly Circus was the place to do it. My neighbour at the time,
Cyril Green, had two sons running an advertising company. We took
out advertisements in The Sunday People and the News of the World. They
had a circulation of three to four million each. The cost for two halfpages
was £27,000, quite a gamble. Alongside the newspaper ads, we
employed Kenny Everett to front advertisements on Capital Radio.
Kenny Everett was one of the top and funniest comedians of the time
The papers were out on the Sunday. The next day, outside our
Piccadilly shop, we had queues 50–100 yards long, everyone wanting to
buy cut-price jewellery.
At Christmas, we had Arthur Mullard and another artist booked
to be outside Selfridges, both dressed as Santa. Arthur was a real ‘Corblimey’
cockney. The other artist did not show and when my managing
director, John Silver, asked me what to do, I said with a smile, “It’s
simple.” Reluctantly, he followed my instructions and put on the red suit
and beard. When a child approached Silver for his autograph, he could
not wait to sign the leaflet. Arthur Mullard peered over his shoulder
as Silver signed his own name. “You’re f****** Father Christmas!” he
whispered fiercely in his ear!
Mail order was part of the half-price scheme. My neighbour Cyril,
of the ‘Tern’ shirt success, was at this point retired. His sons were
busy on our new advertising campaign. Michael Green was married to
Janet Wolfson, the granddaughter of Isaac Wolfson of Great Universal
Stores. I asked Cyril if he would run the mail order business and he
liked the idea. We had premises at Shirley House in Camden. The
landlord was Melvin Bentley who became partners with Jewish caterer
Tony Paige. They have both been friends of mine for many years.
Following the first advert, several mailbags arrived. There was nearly
£1 million sent through the post. It was overwhelming, so much so that
Cyril had a heart attack. As they were taking him out on a stretcher,
I told him I would see him tomorrow. I was joking and his language in
response to my remark was very colourful.
However, mail order proved to be unsuccessful. We received back
£250,000 worth of goods. The paperwork needed to process letters
and invoices, returning the money and the state of some of the goods
returned was dreadful. It was not the best part of the new scheme. The
retail side worked well, though.
At Piccadilly, we had crowds queuing. It was strange. One customer
would want a £5 gold chain, another a £250 diamond ring, and it took
as long to serve each. We hired a doorman to walk the line of people,
finding those customers looking to spend over £100. He would usher
the higher spenders to the front so that we could maximise the takings.
This all went on for quite a long time and other jewellers began to
follow suit. I agreed with two jewellers from Hatton Garden, who
were also advertising in the Sunday papers, that we would not slash
prices against each other when placing our adverts. One jeweller was
not honourable and placed an advertisement undercutting everyone’s
prices. A printer’s error, he claimed. Do you think we believed him?
Eventually, after one year of trading, half-price became the regular
price. It was an interesting phase of the jewellery business.
Piccadilly was the strength of the company and in its day, it was a
colourful area. There were ladies of the night, mostly French, who used
to operate from the Regent Palace Hotel near the shops. There was
one whose name was Rose Marie. She wore a mink coat and was very
elegant. We had a gold cigarette case in the window reserved for her.
Rose Marie would find her client at the Regent Palace and bring him to
the shop. She would point it out and ask if I could come down from the
office. She would ask me, “How much is that cigarette case?” and she
would hold up her hands behind the client: five fingers, four fingers
or three. I would name a price according to how many fingers she put
up. She would say, “I like it.” Whatever he paid, she would bring the
cigarette case back the next day and we would split the money. That
went on for years, during which time the cigarette case could never be
sold to anyone but Rose Marie.
Then came the Street Offences Act. It was part of the Wolfenden
report. It put an end to the ladies of night on the streets and began to
change Piccadilly forever. Our landlord asked us to agree to an increased
rent for our main property. Piccadilly Circus was establishing higher
rents as the area moved towards a different direction. Six months later,
the landlord, as previously agreed with me, bought the property back
from us for £250,000. A lot of skulduggery went on with shops and
their landlords in those days.
My final work in the real jewellery business came about 30 years
ago. At the time, Green & Symons was running out of steam. Mick
was unwell and my sister Helen had passed away some years earlier.
Mick and I had given Lloyd, their middle son, two shops. One was at
the Mayfair Hotel, the other at the Britannia Hotel, both in London,
neither one a success. Robert, their eldest, had trained as a chartered
accountant and worked in the family business. So, Green & Symons
was now being run by my nephew, Robert Green, who had become the
company accountant, and the managing director, John Silver.
A friend of mine, Tony Diner, said his brother-in-law had become
chairman of a Swedish bank, Gamlestaaden, who were backing
a retail fashion jewellery business called TORQ. Torq is Welsh for
a necklace or a collar. They were looking for someone to run the
company. I had a chat with the Swedish bank, which was a sister of
Nobel of Sweden, of Nobel Industries. TORQ had 12 shops and had
made a loss of £700,000 the previous year. I could see that with the
right product and the introduction of fashion watches, it could be
successful. I agreed to take over. The head offices were in Guildford,
so I would catch the train from Waterloo. I very quickly saw that six
shops did not have a chance in hell and closed them down. Over the
course of two years, I opened over 90 shops, about one a week all
over the country, in England, Scotland and Wales. TORQ was one
of the first retailers to open in airports. The development of shops in
airports had only just started. No one had realised just how profitable
airport outlets could be.
The managing director of TORQ at the time was Kevin Bucock
who had previously been the managing director of Combined English
Stores. The chairman of CES was Murray Gordon who had real
jewellery shops, 100 of them. Landlords were developing shopping malls
and Kevin Bucock was a good property negotiator, so we made many
deals. Regrettably, he was not a good retailer. I immediately started
buying fashion jewellery from Hong Kong and I added hairpieces
from Bangkok: hairclips and the like. I also introduced fashion
watches, which proved a success. They were all customised with the
name TORQ. We would buy them for $6 and sell for £30, a fantastic
markup. For the sales, this markup meant we could really drop the
prices. Kevin Bucock’s partner, Gloria, was the senior buyer and we
travelled to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Taipei, sourcing new stock. Kevin
and I negotiated with the landlords over that period of time and they
made major contributions of millions of pounds towards the setting up
of the TORQ shops. They were virtually free of all development costs.
Over the course of the two years, we went into meaningful profits,
a turnover of £33 million. On average, each shop was taking £250,000
to £300,000 per year.
I had a bonus due to me of £500,000 and I forsook that bonus,
giving it to Green & Symons as a loan. They were struggling. Robert
Green had told me that £500,000 was owed, so I thought my bonus
would cover it. Problems carried on with Green & Symons and
I invested a total of £1,150,000. Then, Robert told me that he had
found another £300,000 worth of debt which had not been entered
into the books. Green & Symons was on the verge of collapse. I had
committed enough money and cut off further communication. The
business subsequently closed down.
At TORQ, we also had problems. Over two years, the Swedish
bank, Gamlestaaden, made many disastrous loans. It was a time when
there was a lot of lending to poor property risks. Gamlestaaden and the
support from Nobel ceased. At TORQ, our borrowings were £1 million
per year which we paid back – we were in credit for Christmas. Then,
when we needed funds again to purchase new stock, Gamlestaaden
told me they did not have any money at all. Clearly, the business could
not continue as it was and having no debenture in place left me with
Various investors came to buy the bank, one of which was Philip
Green. I have to be careful with this one. I had known Philip for many
years. When his wife, Tina, was about to have his daughter, Chloe,
he asked Carol to take Tina to hospital. We were that close. Philip
turned up with a senior manager from Barclays and they wanted to
take over TORQ. Then, Philip said he wanted a word with me on the
quiet. The plan he proposed was not acceptable to me and there was
no further discussion.
Eventually, TORQ was taken over. Rumi Verjee, of Domino’s Pizza
and Thomas Goode, who has since become a Lord, headed up the
company. Rumi clearly did not want to work with me, but he did want
to work with Kevin Bucock, the same Bucock who, when I took over the
company, had them losing £700,000. I walked away. I had no choice.
TORQ collapsed 18 months later. It was profitable when I ran it.
I kept up my relationship with Rumi and when I started Parks
Candles, I was selling candles to Thomas Goode. A funny incident
happened later when I was at a charity function. Gerald Ratner was
there, as well as Rumi Verjee. I said, “I would like to introduce the two
of you. Rumi Verjee, you stole my business, TORQ. Gerald Ratner,
you ruined my business, Green & Symons, in Debenhams.” They
both laughed. I am still friendly with both, but this is what happens
Before I was married, I remember my first holiday abroad. I was 20
and heading to South Africa on the Union-Castle liner, which
took five days. The return fare was £55. The boat stopped at Tenerife.
It was rather pleasant, so I disembarked and stayed there. I found a
hotel, the Santa Catalina, which was the best. It cost £7 a week and
I stayed for three weeks. I subsequently returned to England on a cargo
ship, a journey of 10 days.
The second holiday I had was with friends in Cannes. We stayed
at the Martinez Hotel. This was 65 years ago and it cost us less than
£10 a week. At that time, you were only allowed to take £25 out of the
UK, so I borrowed £100 from a moneylender in the city. His name was
Moishe. I enjoyed a night out at a casino and was on a roll, winning
£600 – there was no stopping me. That evening, I was approached
by a gangster’s wife: Gypsy was her name. She was the wife of Billy
Hill, the number one gangster in England. “You seem to know what
you’re doing,” she whispered into my ear. “Let’s go into partnership.”
Bedazzled by her, I agreed. Unfortunately, she did the playing, we lost
all the money and that was the end of that! Cannes was a city full of
surprises and while there, I went to one of the first discotheques, the
Whisky A Gogo. I was dancing with a girl when a friend whispered in
my ear, “That’s not a girl you’re dancing with. It’s a man!” I nearly had a
heart attack. Since I had travelled around a lot with the markets, those
experiences meant I had grown up at some speed. However, travel
abroad was proving to be another kettle of fish altogether.
On a few occasions, I went with friends and my brother-in-law,
Mick, to Las Vegas, our love of boxing being the main attraction. The
first time was in 1973 to see Joe Bugner fight Muhammad Ali. I was
booked to stay at Caesars Palace. I had been told by a friend to take a
box of Havana cigars and give them to Billy Weinberger, the managing
director at Caesars. Cuban cigars were banned in America back then
and the gift would ensure I was treated well for my stay. On check-in
at the hotel, I left the cigar box at reception. Later that evening, I was
playing cards when there was a tap on my shoulder.
“Hello. I’m Billy Weinberger. Thank you for the cigars, Sidney.” He
paused for a moment. “Sidney, it would make me very happy if you
didn’t play cards anymore.”
When I asked why, he quite simply replied, “Because you’re useless
at playing them.”
I asked him how he knew and he pointed to the cameras overhead.
He had been watching me. I can’t deny it. Billy Weinberger was right;
I was and still am useless at playing cards. When it came to paying my
bill at Caesars Palace, I was told there was no bill. The cigars proved to
be a good investment.
As I have said, the main event of our Vegas trip was the fight between
Ali and Joe Bugner. Mick, Irvine Goldstein and I backed Bugner to go
the full 12 rounds. The bet was with Mickey Duff. Our £300 bet at
4/1 paid off as Bugner held his own, but our faith in Mickey did not.
It took two years to get paid.
A sad postscript to my trip was seeing one of my heroes at the hotel.
Joe Louis, the great ex-world champion, was sweeping the hotel floor.
The great Louis himself. The management would have preferred him
to be front of house, greeting guests at reception, but he insisted on
being more useful. By this point, his dementia had set in and the blows
he had received had taken their toll.
Once Carol and I had the children, we bought a home in the South
of France at Beaulieu-sur-Mer. It was a three-bedroom duplex apartment
overlooking the port. We bought a mooring too for a Tulio Abarte
speedboat, which was very fast. In the boat, we could speed from
Beaulieu to Cannes in 45 minutes, no licence required. When we first
looked at the apartment, it was very nice, but the walls were covered
with heavy red damask wallpaper, not in keeping with the sunny seaside
location. We had bought the apartment from a couple and I remember
the wife insisted on giving us the spare red wallpaper. Our friends, Ian
Caplan and his wife, Ro, had a place nearby in Monte Carlo. They had
found a Frenchman/Italian called Jean Pierre to redecorate for them
and suggested we try him. He refurbished our apartment from top
to bottom – new kitchen, bathrooms, everything – and made it very
pleasant. We recommended Jean Pierre, who had moved to London,
to some other friends: David Slade, who had bought the apartment
next to ours, as well as Carol’s cousin, Keith. From his humble offices
in Menton, Jean Pierre went on to build and design some 60 shops all
over the world for the jeweller Laurence Graff, including in Hong Kong
Ian Caplan, my long-term friend from my schooldays, had run
a company, Caplan Profile, that manufactured office furniture.
It successfully went public, hence his move to Monte Carlo, a wellknown
tax haven. An investigation into the Caplan Profile floatation
exposed discrepancies in the figures. He was forced to give the money
back to the company. Ro, his wife, had been a beauty queen and,
after the collapse, together they moved to America where he hooked
up with Brian Lennard from the shoe family. Lennard Shoes owned
about 250 shops in England, including every freehold. They were an
extremely wealthy family. Caplan and Lennard started a shoe business
in America, but ultimately it failed and folded. Lennard, who in fact
I had known since my 20s, was an avid gambler. He ended up losing
his family fortune and his wife and two children left him. Now, he is a
psychiatrist and Ian died at a relatively young age. A sad cry away from
the sunny days on the French Riviera.
When we first had the apartment in France, we would visit it eight
to ten times a year. We would fly from London to Nice and get a taxi
to Beaulieu. I then bought a car, which I left down there. We regularly
had family and friends come to visit us. One was Carole Cutner, a
well-known photographer who indicated she had a dalliance with the
Prince of Wales. She had taken photographs of the prince as well as
taking photographs of all of our children. We still have the photos.
We also made other good friends, such as Suzette and David Morris.
David was a well-known jeweller with a salon on Bond Street. David
and Suzette had a large boat with four cabins and we often went on
long trips with them to Sardinia, Italy and different parts of France, for
five to six days at a time.
In the winter, we would go skiing with the children from Beaulieu
to Isola 2000. In the summer, there were also lots of restaurants near
to our seaside apartment which we used to frequent. One hotel called
La Réserve was opposite and we spent many happy lunches by the pool
with our friends. Then, in a neighbouring port, there was a restaurant
with a plaque to the American Sixth Fleet, thanking them following
the liberation from Germany. But for all our good times in France, we
never made friends with the French.
After 15 years, the children had grown up and they were not
interested in this sleepy seaside town. They wanted the buzz found in
the likes of Juan-les-Pins. The business was going through a difficult time
and needed an injection of money. I sold the apartment. Six months
later, I bought another apartment in Beaulieu, but I had problems with
the developer. It was a ground-floor apartment and the swimming pool
was meant to be six metres away from our private terrace. When we
visited, the pool was only two metres away from the terrace. I took the
developer to court. The developer, it appears, was an important local
man. I hired an English-speaking lawyer, but there was some jiggery
pokery and I lost the case. We sold that apartment after three years.
Carol had decided hotels would make for easier holidays. I sold the
boat too, at a big loss, but I made a profit on the mooring.
Some 40 years ago, we went on a skiing holiday in Kitzbühel,
Austria, with our cousins, David Norton and his wife, Sandra. We
rented a chalet together. It was New Year’s Eve and the wives went
to have their hair done. The hairdresser was very busy, so the girls
ended up washing their own hair. The hairdresser then proceeded
to give them a stiff bill. The girls said it was crazy as they had
done all the work themselves. He turned to them and said, “You
English pigs are all the same!” The girls became very distressed and
left without paying the bill. The hairdresser called the police who
arrived and arrested Carol in the street. Someone came to find me
and I went to the police station with David. We explained what
had happened and how abusive the hairdresser had been to our
wives. The police let Carol go. David and I happened to walk past
the hairdresser’s shop on the way back. We went in and I had an
argument with him. He was rude again, so I hit him. He fell against
a showcase and bounced back. David, a big tough fellow, hit him
again and this time, the showcase fell flat with him spreadeagled on
top. We were all amused the next day when we saw the hairdresser
sporting two black eyes.
For five years, we sent the children to a holiday camp in America.
It was in Boston on a lake, with one side of the lake for the boys, the
other for the girls. The holiday camp was suggested to us when we
rented a house for six weeks in the Hamptons which was owned by
the composer for the movie Finian’s Rainbow, Burton Lane. We had
been sending the children to a holiday day school at Amagansett, Long
Island when friends told us to try the camp in Boston. It was a success;
all four children loved it. Both Laura and Louise returned when they
were older to work there. Louise, who was good at tennis, went back
as a coach and Laura as a camp counsellor. Harvey Soning, a friend of
ours, also sent his four boys to the same camp.
I remember on our way out to Long Island, we stayed at the Plaza
Hotel in New York. We went to see a show at Radio City which
included a chorus line, a troupe known as The Rockettes made up of
48 showgirls, which was quite remarkable.
Another house we rented was in San Diego, California. Ian and Ro
Caplan also rented there. It was part of a tennis centre run by Pancho
González, a former world champion. I remember watching him train
a player with an incredible serve. When I spoke to Pancho, I said, “He
Pancho pointed to his head. “Yes, but he has no brains.”
Carol and I took the children to a famous aquarium in San Diego.
When we walked in, I saw good seats in the front row, so I quickly
ushered the family into this prime viewing position. The music
heralded the start of the show and the dolphins were released. They
all leapt high into the air and down into the water, making a massive
wave so big that Carol, myself and the children on that front row were
totally drenched! There was a roar of laughter from the other people
in the audience, sitting a safe distance behind us. It was obviously the
Symons family’s first visit to the spectacle.
I remember the children swimming in a large pool in San Diego.
Laura swam down to the bottom and came up excitedly holding
something sparkling. It was a diamond ring and very valuable. I spoke to
the pool attendant who made an announcement over his loudspeaker.
A woman ran up to claim it and thanked Laura. At the time, I thought a
little gift of thanks would have been much appreciated by my daughter,
but regrettably, nothing.
Every Pesach (Passover) for about 10 years, we would holiday at the
Hilton in Tel Aviv. Some of the Marks’ boys would bunk down with
our two boys and David Morris’s daughter would bunk with our girls.
Carol’s mother would come too. We spent around 10 days there each
time. There were a lot of families doing the same and when we would
register at the Hilton, they would always say, “Welcome Home.”
We always spent Seder nights with Asher Loftus and his family.
Richard Loftus was very musical and would transpose all the
traditional Jewish songs to The Beatles’ music. We enjoyed many good
times with the Loftus family and Benny Smidt Boder and his family.
Benny, myself and Motel Gertler used to buy racehorses together;
we would own one third each. They were never very successful, but
it was something we had fun doing. At the Hilton, I remember one
incident around the swimming pool which involved us men having
another type of fun. There was a fashion parade showing a new Israeli
swimwear designer called Gotex. Tony Diner, Harvey Rosenblatt and
I borrowed swimming costumes from Carol – one-pieces of course. We
each fitted two oranges in the appropriate place to look like a woman’s
bust and sashayed around the pool along with the fashion models! We
caused a massive disruption and my children, all four of them, thought
it was hilarious seeing their father in a woman’s bathing suit. Needless
to say, Gotex were furious.
Years later, we decided to go to Eilat for Pesach. It was up-andcoming
and they had a new hotel, the Princess, with a swimming pool
and a tennis court. I played a lot of tennis then. Many of our friends
moved on to the Princess at the same time. Eilat was underdeveloped
then, so we never really explored the town – everything we needed was
at the hotel. Originally, the airport ran directly through the middle of
the town, but as popularity grew, they moved it a 30-minute drive away.
When the children were still young, for six consecutive years in the
summer, we rented a villa in Italy at Forte dei Marmi. Friends of ours,
David and Sara Morein, took another villa. David was the accountant
at his family firm of jewellers, Kutchinsky. He and I would catch the
plane from Heathrow together to Pisa each Friday and back to London
each Sunday night or Monday morning. The price of the return plane
ticket was £42 – ridiculously cheap. The villas were called Villas Italia
and the chap who ran the complex was Bill Milareeni. We would take
over Andrea, the nanny and Carol Pead, a gym instructor. We did not
let the children swim in the sea as we were not sure about the quality
of water in Forte.
I do remember that we would leave all the swimsuits and towels
on the beach overnight and when we returned in the morning, they
would be beautifully laundered. We met a number of Italians on the
beach, mainly from Milan. They were mostly Jewish. 50 years on,
I know that my daughter-in-law’s uncle also lived in Milan and he
would spend summers in Forte dei Marmi at the same time as our
Italian holidays at the resort. To this day, there is a synagogue in
Forte which he opened.
Opposite the beach was a playground for the children. The Italians
adore children. The waiters in the various restaurants we visited were
very kind too and made a huge fuss over the children, almost ignoring
the parents. There was a good market in Forte, with excellent linens,
towels and leather goods. We also used to go shopping in the city of
Pisa where Carol discovered Pucci. She just kept buying their dresses.
She said to me, “When I have eight Pucci dresses, I will never ever want
any other clothes at all.” No such luck. Many years later, Carol gave the
Pucci dresses to our daughter-in-law, Marcelle.
From Forte dei Marmi, I visited Carrara where the famous white
marble is quarried. This was Michelangelo territory. I was tempted to
buy a statue or two, but did not.
One holiday, Carol and I travelled around South America. We
arrived in Brazil by plane from Aruba in the Caribbean. I remember
in the Caribbean, the wind was so strong from the southwest that the
trees bent at right angles to the ground. They are known as the ‘divi
divi trees’ of Aruba. We visited a synagogue there from the seventeenth
century. At the Brazilian customs, we were stopped. For some reason,
they must have thought we were smuggling something. They actually
strip-searched both of us and of course found nothing.
We then explored Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela. In Rio de
Janeiro, we went to the Mardi Gras and it was unbelievable. Everyone
was in exotic costumes, all dancing the samba. The leaders of each
troupe would use loud whistles to guide and conduct their entourage.
In Venezuela, we became very aware of the stark contrast between
the rich and the poor. On the cool plains, the wealthy enjoyed life in
their large villas while on the surrounding hills were shacks stacked
almost on top of each other. The people living in these shacks clearly
struggled to scratch out an existence. The rich had made their money
from oil and outside their villas you would see vintage cars, some 70
to 80 years old, all in immaculate condition. We visited a particular
cemetery in Argentina where there was a statue of a young girl and a
dog. The story was that the girl drowned while swimming in the sea
and, at the exact moment she died, her dog dropped dead on land.
We later went back to Argentina for a 60th birthday party. Alan
Hassenfell is an American friend of ours. His party was quite something.
There was a lot of dancing and I remember tango dancers filling the
streets. The main boulevard in Buenos Aries was huge, at least twice
the width of the Champs-Élysées in Paris. They must have knocked
down houses either side to make it so wide.
I have been to South Africa twice and found it interesting. The
first time was when my grandson, Gabriel, was about to be born in
South Africa. For my second visit, I stayed at Ellerman House in Cape
Town, a luxurious hotel. One day during my stay, I had been playing
tennis with Michael Levy and when we arrived back together at the
hotel, Michael was given an urgent note. He quickly went to his room
and returned having changed into a blue shiny mohair suit. He was
accompanied by another suited gentleman whom I was introduced
to as a Mr Boateng. Having been brought up by a father who wore
his Savile Row suits with panache, I immediately asked Mr Boateng
if he had made Lord Levy’s suit. “No, that isn’t me. I’m the minister
for overseas development.” I was about to apologise for my mistake
when he added, “You’re thinking of my brother, Ozwald Boateng.”
The conversation was brief as Lord Levy had sad political matters to
attend to. The urgent note had informed him that the Prime Minister
of Israel, Ariel Sharon, had suffered a massive stroke. It was 2006.
Kenya was another African trip of ours, but while everyone else
took their cars up to see Mount Kenya, I was lucky enough to see it by
helicopter. We were enjoying the pool at our hotel one day when a very
tall Kenyan approached us. He must have been 6ft 6in tall. He asked if
my son, David, was around. I asked him who he was.
“I’m a member of the Kenyan boxing team. Your son is training
David was 13 years old at the time. When I asked how he was getting
on, the man told me, “He is outstanding.”
Perhaps one of the most memorable trips was just after 1973, nearly
50 years ago, when we visited the secret air force base in the Negev, the
desert in southern Israel. The Yom Kippur War had recently ended.
Asher and Betty Loftus had dedicated a synagogue on the base. We
flew there on a private jet commissioned by the Israeli Air Force. From
the air, you could not see the base at all. Everything was underground;
it was remarkable. When the Loftus family walked into the synagogue,
everyone put their arms around the couple and sang Israeli songs. It
was emotional for everyone.
In Israel with the children
In the South of France
In the Far East
Carol in Marbella, 2019
In Buenos Aires
JIA jewellery appeal, 1973
JIA jewellery committee, 1973
Jewish charity, making an appeal
With Asher Loftus at a charity event
Richard, David, Louise and Laura
My children are all in their 50s as I write this. It seems as though
it were only yesterday that I was waiting in the hospital for each
of them to be born. Over the course of six years, our family grew from
just Carol and me to having four children. It was a blessing.
My eldest son, Richard, was born in 1965 on November 5th,
Guy Fawkes Night, at The London Clinic. Richard’s first school was
Mrs McCaffrey’s Day School in St John’s Wood. This was a quintessential
English preparatory school. On entering the school, Mrs McCaffrey
would be standing at the door. The boys would take off their caps and
bow before entering. After three years, Richard then went to Lyndhurst
School in Hampstead until he was 13, before becoming a boarder at
Clifton College in Bristol. He joined the Jewish house at Clifton, called
Polacks, which had been going for over 100 years. One of my solicitors
was Ken Jones. He was not Jewish, but he told me, “If you want your
boys to have a balanced upbringing then send them to Clifton. There
are 700 children there, a Jewish house of approximately 70 boys, and
he will learn how to get on with all sorts of people.”
Richard was good at rugby and he enjoyed his time at Clifton. He was
not particularly academic, but when he left school, Carol insisted that
he go to university. He went to the University of London and gained a
degree in law. When he was at university, he also ran a disco. He was
earning £600 on a Saturday night. When I asked him why he stopped
unning it, he told me it was not a business for a Jewish boy! That being
said, he previously had been happy to advertise his disco in The Jewish
Chronicle. There was another well-known disco called Banana Split run
by Julian Posner, his main competition. Richard added a quote to his
advert in The Jewish Chronicle: ‘The Banana is slipping.’ He received a
letter from Julian Posner’s lawyers citing defamation. Richard spoke to
me, as white as a ghost. I put my lawyers on to it. Their response was
simply put in a letter to Julian’s lawyers. “We notice that Banana Split
has not made any financial declarations to the treasury in four years.”
We never heard another word, but at the time, Richard was terrified.
When he left college, he went into the video business, selling
equipment to recording studios. He and his two partners made a
success of it and he was supplying recording studios in England, but
mainly in London. He also had a successful retail outlet on Great
Titchfield Street, off Tottenham Court Road. Then, he fell out with
his two partners and left the company. He started to make his own
documentaries, which were mostly political. One was an interview with
the wife of Arafat, the Palestinian leader. I met her and I could see
she was fond of Richard. He also made parliamentary documentaries,
as well as interviewed the Israeli president at the time, Shimon Peres.
Another of his documentaries was on reformed murderers, so he
covered a wide gamut. The most well-known documentary he made
was on the Ferrari/Cobra 24-hour race, for which he interviewed
Iacocca and Shelby.
Then, six years ago, I was diagnosed with lung cancer, which was
treated successfully. Richard came into the candle business to help me
during this time. He had a completely different outlook at Parks than
I did. Where I was known to take a substantial order scribbled on the
back of a packet of cigarettes, he was 99% paperless; everything was
computer-driven. He has done well for the company.
Richard has a pleasing personality. People like him and he gets on
well with most. He has been married for 18 years to Marcelle. Marcelle
Metta was born in Lebanon, but they were introduced to each other in
London. Richard is Ashkenazi; Marcelle is Sephardi. Marcelle’s parents
gave Richard and Marcelle a spectacular wedding in Rome at the Great
Synagogue, which was built under the supervision of the Pope. The
synagogue is vast, like a cathedral. They chose Rome as her family had
moved there when they first left Lebanon and it was a central location
for her extended family as well, for those living further afield. The
reception was at the Villa Aldobrandini with all bewigged flunkies and
servants, with elaborate entertaining outside in the gardens. The band
was a well-known Israeli band and everyone enjoyed the party, the
dancing and the speeches. It was a spectacle and people still mention
the occasion to me.
Richard and Marcelle have two children. Jake was born in 2005.
He was at Arnold House School in St John’s Wood before moving to
Wetherby School. He seems to have an entrepreneurial spirit which
he probably inherited from both of his grandfathers. His Lebanese
grandfather was always in business in many different countries. The
Metta family, having originally moved to Italy, eventually settled in
London. Jake, at the age of 14, dealt in exclusive and rare trainers. His
grandfather lent him £2,500 which he repaid in less than a year. He
buys trainers for as much as £400 a pair and then sells them for £600
on eBay. It looks as if he is heading for a high-flying career in business.
Jake had his bar mitzvah at St John’s Wood Synagogue and did well
there. He had a Kiddush at the synagogue, which his grandfather and
I sponsored, including a nice party afterwards for his friends.
Richard and Marcelle’s daughter is named Miel. She is two years
younger than her brother. She went to a traditional English school
for girls, Pembridge Hall. She did well and is also musical. She is now
at Queen’s College and plays the drums in the school band. Richard
played the drums too, while at school, and I recall he drove us crazy
with the noise.
My second son, David, is a year younger than Richard and is very
different from his brother. David has always been very spiritual. Both
boys went to the same schools. David was a top classics scholar at
Clifton. I visited Clifton when David was still a fledgling at the school.
The sports trainer was a man named Gordon Hazell. I said to him,
“I know you. My father took me to the Albert Hall and I saw you
fight Alf Danahar in the Southern Area Championships many years
ago.” He was amazed that I had seen him fight. It was a fortuitous
encounter as after that, Gordon Hazell looked after David. He was a
very decent man, a devout Christian, and with his guidance, he helped
David to become captain of the school at boxing. Needless to say, the
other houses pitted against the Jewish house added a further element
of excitement to the boxing matches. David laid tefillin every day at
Clifton and because of his influence, another 15 boys joined him in the
ritual. He liked to write articles and, having visited the Bristol Jewish
cemetery, his articles were printed in The Jewish Chronicle. He followed
this up with a visit to the Jewish cemetery in Bath. The articles in
The Jewish Chronicle were both about the ancient tombstones at the
cemetery and their history. Soon afterwards, David began to receive
letters from people all over the world asking him to look for the grave
of their ancestors.
Being a top scholar at Clifton and passing his exams with top
marks, David was offered a place to study at Jesus College, Oxford.
He was only 17 years old and therefore took a year’s sabbatical. He
wanted to go to Israel. I was friendly with a woman called Doreen
Gainsford who ran JIA Appeals in England. She had recently moved
to Israel. I asked if David could stay with her. She was running a
facility for the Ethiopian children at Ashkelon who had been seeking
refuge in Israel and she took David under her wing. Carol and I went
to Ashkelon where David was based, and as we were walking along
the street, a group of Ethiopian children shouted out, “Hello David.”
He clearly was popular and worked happily with them. However, at
weekends he was going up to Jerusalem and it was there that the ultraorthodox
took a special interest in him. He became very involved
with the Haredi. It is difficult to say, but I think he was being drawn
in by their way of life. A small but memorable incident in Ashkelon
was when we bumped into the mayor. He invited David to come over
for Friday night dinner. By this time, David was very tall, nearly 6ft
3in, while the mayor was a short man. I noticed David peer over his
head to see if the mayor was wearing a kippah, which he was, before
accepting his invitation.
David had been at Jesus College for two terms when he announced
to us that he did not wish to go back to Oxford – he wanted to go
to a yeshiva in Jerusalem. Carol and I were very unhappy. I decided
to find out who was the most influential Jew in Oxford. The man
was the master of Balliol, Zelman Cowen, who was ex-governor-general
of Australasia. I made an appointment for Carol to see him. In a
fourteenth-century house in the centre of Oxford, Carol met him, a
smallish man behind a big desk. Carol explained our dilemma. “I am
very sorry,” he said, “I can’t help you with your son. I have two sons,
both in a yeshiva. I have the same problem as you.”
David went to Jerusalem and was introduced to a girl. She was
originally from Nottingham. David said he wanted to get engaged,
so I suggested we meet the girl. I flew to Jerusalem and took Carol’s
mother. To be honest, I was not impressed. I spoke to a friend in my
synagogue. He knew the girl’s family from Nottingham and told me
that the mother’s family was unstable – ‘mad’ was the actual word he
used. Back in England, we invited the mother to London. We were
nervous, hoping all might be better than expected. Carol spoke to Lady
Jakobovits, the chief rabbi’s wife, who was a friend of hers, and she
agreed to come around for the tea as well. The woman from Nottingham
was indeed unstable and had an argument with Lady Jakobovits about
some Jewish ritual. Lady Jakobovits was not impressed at all and told
Carol to make sure David did not break the plate, a Jewish tradition
practised by the ultra-orthodox. If the plate was broken, the Shidduch
would become irreversible. The wedding invitations were printed and
his fiancée gave them to David to hand out. He must have felt that
something was wrong as he kept hold of the invitations and no one
ever saw them. Then, David’s rabbi in Bnei Brak, Israel, spoke to Carol
and told her it was not a good match. In the end, the marriage did not
A short time later, David had a nervous breakdown. The head of the
yeshiva brought him back to London and I met them at the airport.
The rabbi was upset as he had left his glasses on the plane. I told him
not to worry and I took them directly to Specsavers to organise a new
pair. The assistant came to take his details. She was a woman of about
65 years of age. When she spoke to the rabbi, I watched as he covered
his eyes so as not to look at her. I thought to myself, What have we let
ourselves in for – this is pure fanaticism. There was no other way to
I took David to the hospital on Commercial Road. His mental
health needed professional help. He was admitted and placed in a ward.
Unbeknown to us, a group of young men from Stamford Hill went to
the hospital and discharged David. I contacted them and said if David
was not back in that hospital immediately, I would report them to the
police for kidnapping. So, David went back to the hospital. Eventually,
he was placed with a rebbe in Stamford Hill whom I paid monthly.
The rebbe’s own son had been in a car accident and for many years had
been in a comatose state. When the rebbe moved to Lakewood, New
Jersey in America, David went with him. David has subsequently been
studying at the yeshiva at Lakewood for 30 years.
I thought David would get married, become a rabbi and a teacher
and have a community. None of these things happened. He is still
in Lakewood. Carol and I have supported him for 30-odd years, but
finally decided he had to stand on his own two feet and get a job.
Unfortunately, that was not to happen as the yeshiva supports him
instead and encourages him to study. We once met a group of young
American orthodox women and Carol chatted to them about David.
At first, they were interested to know more about him, that is, until
they asked about his job. When we told them that he only studies at a
yeshiva, they said, “A man who spends his life studying would not be
suitable marriage material.”
We visit David twice a year. Usually, we arrange for a car to collect him
from New Jersey to take him to New York where we see him. I have been
to see him at Lakewood, but it is not a happy experience for me. They
are all radicals. Sometimes, we meet halfway. You could say he appears
happy, but he is bound in a straitjacket by their strict regime. For one of
our visits, we specifically asked at our synagogue for kosher restaurants
in New York. We chose the one which came most highly recommended
and we walked in with David. There were at least 50 orthodox Jews
all wearing kippots and the hechshers on the walls clearly stated the
establishment was ‘glatt kosher’. Even this was not good enough for our
son. David picked up his phone and spoke to the rebbe at Lakewood
who confirmed the restaurant was acceptable. This young man, who has
a brilliant brain, could not make a simple decision for himself.
Our third child, Louise, followed in the family school tradition and
went to Mrs McCaffrey’s where girls had to curtsy at the school entrance.
I wanted the children to be fluent in other languages, so we then sent
her to the Lycée. Louise was athletic and sporty. At the Lycée, she was
trained by an all-England fencer. Louise was outstanding in sport. One
of my nephews, Lloyd, was at Millfield School and I went down to visit
him. Millfield was a mixed school. There, I saw two 16-year-old girls
with rosy cheeks playing tennis. They were hitting balls harder than
any man I had ever seen. That was what I wanted for my daughter, so
when she was 13, I took her to Roedean School for an interview. They
agreed to accept her, but only if she was able to pass their entrance
exams. I was nervous as Louise was not academic. Determined, I told
them I was not in the country very often, my business keeping me
away. I insisted on paying the school fees there and then. I wanted to
make a guarantee of her place. I paid the first term in £5 notes. I saw
the bursar’s hands shaking; he had never handled so much cash. Three
days before Louise was due to start at Roedean, they phoned up and
said she had not passed their exam and could not go. I said, “But I’ve
already been to John Lewis and all her clothes have been printed with
‘Roedean’ labelled in the collar.” Eventually, they agreed she could take
up her place, but she would have to stay an extra year, which meant she
would be there until she was 19. Louise enjoyed her time at the school
and played hockey for the school and Sussex. She also did very well
county-wise in cricket and netball.
In the summer holidays, when she went on holiday to the camp in
Boston, Louise met a boy from Canada. She was still at Roedean at the
time. Lo and behold, he left his university in Canada and took a job
at McDonald’s in Brighton to be near her. I went down to see Louise
at the school and stopped in at a famous restaurant, a fish restaurant
called English’s. I ordered a white wine and the head waiter said to me,
“You know, your daughter always has the Chablis.” I realised the pocket
money I was sending her was going on entertaining her boyfriend.
Eventually, Carol went down to Brighton and spoke to them. A lot of
tears followed and he subsequently returned to Canada.
Louise left school at 19. She did not want to go to university, so she
went into Marks & Spencer. They were obviously very impressed with
this girl from Roedean and featured her on the front page of their
magazine. Louise has always been first class at sales. I know, as I let
all the children work in the company shops during their holidays. The
same could not be said of David. One holiday, he was working in one
of the Oxford Street shops. I walked in and saw he was reading a book
under the counter. I asked the manager why he had not stopped him.
His reply was, “He’s your son.” David was dismissed. David also worked
for my solicitors, Lorenz and Jones, in the holidays.
Louise went to Marks & Spencer in Maidstone. She was running
the men’s clothing section. As a sales incentive to the customers, she
used to ask my tailor, Edward Sexton from Savile Row, to change the
buttons on the Marks & Spencer suits to add an extra flair.
Louise was very pretty. She still is, I should add. A lot of boys
chased her. Then, she met Philip Keller, an accountant. As Philip’s
family was Reform, the ceremony was at West End Central Synagogue
and to make it 100% kosher, they also married at the orthodox
Jewish headquarters at Woburn House, Holburn. The reception was
at The Savoy Hotel.
Philip was made financial advisor to the Glaxo Corporation in
South Africa. They moved to Johannesburg and their son, Gabriel,
was born there. Carol and I went to South Africa for the birth.
Philip’s parents are Richard and Susie Keller and the family came from
Manchester. They had a department store there, which was sold to
Debenhams. Susie’s father was Austrian and came over to England and
settled in Whitehaven, Cumbria. He was an industrialist and became
Baron Schon, sitting in the House of Lords. His maiden speech began,
“I came to England with nothing. I am now sitting in the House of
Lords and that couldn’t happen anywhere else in the world.”
Gabriel likes cricket and I took him to Lords for an England test
match. All the seats were empty in front of us, so I said, “Come on, let’s
move down to a better seat.” He was terrified to move as it was against
the rules. Gabriel is an expert golfer and can hold his own against most
people. He went to Bristol University, gained a first class degree and
now works for a financial company.
Louise’s second child, Lauren, was born in England. The family
had moved back to St John’s Wood and later moved to Primrose Hill.
Lauren went to Nottingham University to study public relations.
Louise’s husband, Philip, became a successful finance director of a
city company and retired at the age of 53. He had always been interested
in music and likes to conduct. He originally studied at Durham
University, so when he retired, he returned to his old university to take
a degree in music.
Louise is now a child psychologist. Not long ago, I was introduced
to someone who had worked with Louise and her exact words were,
“You don’t know how brilliant your daughter is.” That was strange to
hear as she was never academic. “Well, there you are, she is brilliant.”
Louise and Philip have a second home in Majorca – she loves the sun.
They spend a lot of time there.
Our fourth child is Laura. She again curtsied at the McCaffrey’s
school entrance, learnt languages at the French Lycée and then went on
to Roedean. Laura was not happy there, but she acted in the theatrical
society. I saw her in a couple of plays and musicals in Brighton. She
has always been involved with public relations. She was 23 when she
married Simon Aran who came from a Sephardi family. They were
married at Lauderdale Road Synagogue and the wedding reception was
at The Dorchester Hotel.
Laura had her own public relations company at a young age. It was
bought out by Freud, a well-known PR company. She looks after 30
plus major stars and is a director of the company. She handled Pierce
Brosnan when he was James Bond for 10 years. For 25 years, she has
looked after Daniel Craig – during 15 of those years, he has played
James Bond. She has tremendous responsibilities. She travels with
these actors and actresses all over the world and on many occasions,
I have seen her on television on the red carpet behind these famous
stars. She is highly respected. I do know that prior to Covid-19, when
the previous James Bond film was released, they visited 13 countries
in 14 days by private jet. Although it looks glamorous, it is hard
work, but she accepts all the responsibilities with a smile and is going
from strength to strength.
Laura has two children. The oldest is Isabelle. When Isabelle was
three, she was a bridesmaid in Ireland when Pierce Brosnan, her
godfather, was married. Isabelle has always been interested in animals
and has an incredible wanderlust. She has worked in Australia, New
Zealand, South Africa and Asia. Carol and I were on holiday in Laos
and we met Isabelle there. She was, as always, working with animals.
We went for a Friday night dinner at a Chabad House where there
were 200 young Jewish people from all over the world. She in fact met
two Australian girls there who she had previously met in Australia.
Isabelle came back to England and applied for a job at Battersea Dogs’
Home. She was given the job and she worked there for some time.
Then, she was put on furlough because of Covid-19. After furlough,
she was reinstated, but her wanderlust resurfaced and she is now in
Kenya working with animals again.
She has a younger brother, Jack. He is now at Nottingham
University. Jack is a good footballer and a massive Arsenal supporter.
I once took him to a match at the Arsenal. A friend of mine is a
football agent called Jonathan Barnet. We had seats in Jonathan’s box
with some famous footballers in attendance and Jack could not take
his eyes off them.
Laura was divorced seven years ago. It was not pleasant, but the
children are close to her ex-husband’s parents, Meyer and Jennifer. The
couple moved from St John’s Wood to Israel. Sadly, Jennifer passed
away, but the children have met with their grandfather in Tel Aviv
where he has an apartment. He sold his flat in Northgate and then
bought an apartment in Park St James where we previously lived.
The children and grandchildren are close. The last occasion when
Jack and Gabriel were together, they went to see the premiere of the
latest Bond movie at the Albert Hall. Laura also had tickets for us.
Carol and I had never been to a premiere before. There were 4,000
people there. We bumped into Jack and Gabriel who were at the other
end of the venue. There was an after-premiere party at Annabel’s
nightclub which they were going to. It was pelting down with rain, so
we took them in our car.
David’s siblings have visited him in New York, though the
relationship is understandably distant. They come from different
worlds. Our other children are proud to be Jewish, but they are not
what I would call synagogue-goers. I tried my best, even sending a rabbi
down to Roedean to teach all the Jewish girls on Sundays. The bill
was met by myself, a property developer called Godfrey Bradman and
Ralph Halpern. However, as with many Jewish families, our main gettogethers
are invariably on a Friday night.
With the children in Washington
David back from university
With David at Grand Central Station, New York
Richard’s wedding in Rome
Richard’s wedding in Rome
With the grandchildren in Majorca
Jake’s bar mitzvah
For 16 years, Carol had a shop in St John’s Wood. It was known for
selling unique gifts, fragrances and stylish home furnishings such
as rugs, lamps and scented candles. It was called Parks. On occasion,
when the sun was shining and the shop took a few pounds, she would
invariably shut early, say, “I’ve taken enough today,” and enjoy sitting in
the garden. For the candles, she would buy silver and glass containers
from wholesalers in France. She would then send them to Carberry in
Scotland to be filled with fragranced candle wax. These were individual
hand-filled pieces; she would order 10 to 12 at a time. These candles
quickly became popular, so much so that Thomas Goode and Harrods
made an order for several hundred. This volume of manufacturing was
a new experience for Carol, and at the time I had just finished with my
company, TORQ, so I offered to step in and help.
I found a candle manufacturer in Weston-super-Mare. Carberry was
a long distance away; their costs were high and turnaround was slow.
Unfortunately, Weston-super-Mare proved to be unsatisfactory and, in
fact, they soon after closed their business, so I had to source a new
manufacturer. I found what I was looking for in the old carpet town
of Kidderminster. The production factory needed an initial investment
of £25,000 to buy machinery, wax and fragrance. I asked the husband
of Carol’s partner in the shop if he would like to join me, but he could
not. As Carol had taken the Thomas Goode order under Parks’ name,
she would have to buy her partner out. I gave them £25,000 and Carol
became the sole owner of the shop and company and had complete
freedom to use the Parks name. I had set up the production in
Kidderminster when, shortly afterwards, I was approached by someone
who could produce candles using soya rather than the paraffin wax we
had been using. Soya wax would make a superior candle with less risk.
Paraffin, a by-product of petrol, is known to release toxic chemicals.
It was, in my opinion, the best way forwards and so I invested more
money. I believed the public would respond to a cleaner candle.
The factory was in a disused building due to be demolished. The
manager was John Simpson and, unbeknown to me, he was stealing
the company’s wax, fragrance and staff to supply other companies,
including Liberty of London. I decided to end my association with John
and dismissed him. I moved to new premises, a factory in Hartlebury
near Kidderminster, and we have been there for the last 15 years. We
use soya wax mixed with a small amount of beeswax to give our candles
a better burn.
The factory machinery has moved on from hand-filling to two
automated five-head fillers and then a 10-head filler. Now, 20 containers
can be filled with wax in no time at all, producing thousands a day. We
also have the equipment to make our own wicks. All this machinery
has been custom made to our exacting requirements. We have people
to pack the goods, quality control the products and run the warehouse.
We have added a new mezzanine floor, lighting and heating. At the
warehouse, due to our increasing internet trading, we have appointed
consultants to develop our ability for speedy deliveries. For example, if
we receive an order from a customer in Derby, we know immediately if
we can deliver the product to her the next day. It takes a sophisticated
system to be able to pick the right product off the shelves when we have
some 170,000 pieces in stock.
Over the years, we have supplied Parks candles to major stores such
as Harrods, John Lewis, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason. We have
appointed distribution agents in France, Italy, Germany, America and
South Korea. In the beginning, as the business grew, I was importing
the metal containers directly from India, but from a dishonourable
man. I had an order worth £28,000 and he told me I would have to
pay the full amount up front for the bank to release the goods. An
unusual request, but Christmas was approaching and I needed those
containers. I paid the full sum and he immediately disappeared. It was
a loss to the company when it was just beginning to establish itself.
Then, I discovered the manager of the factory had employed eight
members of his own family, each one even worse than the next. They
were all travellers and their thieving of the company’s wax and fragrances
went on for more years than I would like to remember. Regrettably, the
company had bad managers and staff. I had many years of experience
in retail, but now I was in manufacturing. I had to learn many lessons
and I am still learning to this day. After our initial teething problems,
the production company in Kidderminster ran smoothly with 45–60
factory employees and a further 16 staff in London looking after sales,
website design, accounts and administration.
In London, we took a property on George Street, just off Baker
Street. There was a retail unit at street level and we had 16 desks for
the office staff in the basement. George Street does not have footfall
and proved unsuccessful for the retail unit. To be open for six days,
we needed three sales staff and when you added rent, rates and service
charges to the salaries, the figures did not add up. For the last two years,
in light of the Covid situation, the shop has been closed, although it
is open for customers to place internet orders. These days, our office
staff generally work from home, which has proved to be popular. One
member married a chap from Mexico, where she now lives, but she
still works for us running our website. Our accounts lady lives in
Weymouth, works from home and it suits the company as well as her.
The staff seem better off. Instead of travelling for two hours a day – 10
hours a week – to get to the office, they spend their time working at
their own desks. They also save the expense of travel and food. The
company has continuous Zoom meetings these days.
Seven years ago, as I previously said, I had a scan which revealed
a shadow on my lungs. I had to prepare for chemotherapy and
adiotherapy. My son, Richard, was finding it increasingly difficult to
obtain funding to make his documentary films and I was not going
to be in a situation to give my full attention to the company. It was a
fortuitous time for him to join the company. He has been with me for
six years running the day-to-day business and the company continues
to flourish. He has made it up to date in many ways. Also, where
I tolerated bad members of staff, he removed them.
Having made a recovery from my treatment, I enjoy my current
limited involvement with the business. I am in the office from between
10 and 10.30am and finish at about 2pm. I attend meetings that are
usually held via Zoom; I am more of an observer these days rather than
a contributor. My business knowledge is from the last 60 years, but
everything has changed so much. I sometimes wonder if my past years
of experience are meaningless in this day and age. Sometimes, I will
meet with clients and they respond to my enthusiasm for our product.
Occasionally, I visit the factory with Richard and speak to staff.
The Parks brand is well-known in many countries. In France, we
supply to an online company who have over 70 million names on
their account. In Germany, we supply another powerful internet seller.
We receive substantial orders and are committed to deliver the goods
quickly as we have a five-day international delivery guarantee to meet
the demands of these large companies. That is our challenge and we
are constantly meeting it. England, South Korea and Japan are strong
markets for us too. We make our candles for other famous company
brands as well. Confidentiality agreements keep their names from
being mentioned or put down in print. They wouldn’t want the public
to know their product is subcontracted out. We have made candles for
over 2,000 companies worldwide.
Early on, I was supplying Fortnum & Mason with our candles when
the buyer moved to Highgrove to work for the Prince of Wales. I would
visit Clarence House, his London residence, to take the order and
once, a lady in waiting joined the meeting. She said, “Sidney, HRH has
a beautiful garden with pergolas. Could you design a container with a
silver lid that looks like a pergola?”
I had already taken the order in detail, so I said, “That would be no
problem, but there will be a delay.”
“Oh, f*** him, let’s go with the original order.”
I am not totally sure if I heard her reply correctly, but I think I did.
We also produce our own labels at Parks and employ a design team.
Believe it or not, the head of that department’s name is James Bond.
10 Downing Street has become a client as well as the FA, the British
Museum, the Royal Opera House, the Ritz Hotel in Paris and many
others. We produce candles for international jewellery companies,
interior designers and florists who are incredibly particular about the
fragrances used. We are the only candle company that produces our
own fragrances, employing technicians at the factory to ensure quality
control never wavers. Rose is the most expensive fragrance to produce,
with lavender and other florals following closely behind. Fragrance can
cost £200 per kilogram. We used to have musk as a scent, but it is no
longer allowed as musk is made from the belly of a deer.
Our candles sell from £30 to £300 retail. With 10 other major
candle manufacturers in the country, competition is fierce and it is
important we stay ahead. We are always looking for new ideas and new
products, just as long as it is all 100% natural.
We first started marketing at trade shows in Birmingham and
London, to get the company name known and to take orders. Then
later, under the umbrella of the British Chamber of Commerce, we
visited trade shows in Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, New York, Los
Angeles, Japan and Chicago. We appointed agents to sell for us in
America, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Greece, Japan, South Korea
and many more countries. Before Covid, our most important show
was in Paris at the Maison&Objet where buyers visit from all over
the world to seek products. I also travelled to China to attend the
trade shows, but not as an exhibitor. In China, I was the buyer, on
the lookout for boxes, glasses, machinery and anything to strengthen
our product and production.
For two years, we supplied British Airways on their long-haul
flights to sell our candles on board. I picked up the contract at the
Tax-Free World Association exhibition in Cannes. The trade shows
can be exhausting, but they are a necessity if you want your business
to be global. We were on QVC for a time and did quite well, always
selling out, until they moved our time slot to 12pm, a time with a lower
viewership. The goods were on sale or return, and of 1,000 delivered,
800 came back. When I examined the returned goods, the special
coded tickets, a requirement of QVC, damaged our boxes when they
were removed. I refused to take the candles back. Regrettably, that was
the last of our business with them.
I have visited Tokyo three times on business with Parks Candles.
The first time was when I had just finished with Green & Symons.
I was wearing a beige gaberdine suit made by the Savile Row tailor,
Edward Sexton. I had not worn the suit for about five years. I put my
hand in the inside pocket and there was £1,000 wrapped in an elastic
band, obviously from my jewellery days. At the trade show, there was a
British silversmith exhibiting and he had an attractive tea set on offer.
It looked very modern. I said, “That’s a modern design.” He told me no,
it was based on a Victorian design. He opened a book and showed me
that it was indeed a copy. “How much are you asking for it? The trade
price is £5,000.” I told him I had £1,000 and said if it was any good to
him to let me know. Needless to say, he sent me on my way. At the end
of the show, he asked if I was still interested in the tea set. I was, but
£1,000 was my limit. “OK, I’ll take it,” he said. I had already spotted
underneath that the tea set was marked Asprey, increasing its value. A
good find and, in the end, you could say it cost me nothing as I was
not expecting to find the money in my pocket. As a jeweller, you always
have cash to hand. You are buying and selling to trade constantly. My
father, being a bookmaker, always had to go to the races with Scottish
£100 notes in his pocket – I remember that. He would have as much as
£10,000 on him. That was 70 years ago, so probably in today’s money
it was more like £250,000.
My second time in Japan for a trade show was during Passover.
I enquired to see if there were any synagogues in Tokyo and found a
Reform Synagogue. I phoned them and they were having a seder night,
so Carol and I went. There were maybe 50 people at the table and
a few Japanese women, wearing Stars of David. They began reading
from the book, the Haggadah, and they were more fluent than any
person there. Most of them were married to American servicemen and
embassy officials who were in attendance.
Hong Kong at Passover was another interesting experience. I was
there with Carol at a trade show. There were three synagogues all
built on top of each other; one Reform, one Orthodox and the other
Chabad. We went to a general seder in the communal hall. There
were 200 people there from all over the world. When it came to
the Ma Nishtana (the four questions), the rabbi asked, “Anyone from
Poland?” Then it went round and Germany, France and England
followed. Each person read the Ma Nishtana in their native language.
Finally, he asked if there was anyone from China. A man put up his
hand and he proceeded with the Ma Nishtana in Mandarin. It was a
Another time, I was in Singapore for Pesach. There are two
synagogues in incredible condition as they have a lot of money which
they are not allowed to move out of the country. The money came from
the Sassoons and the opium trade, when they were dealing with China
over 100 years ago. We were exhibiting at a fair and a woman asked if
she could leave her bag on our stand. Carol said yes and then said to
me, “You know she’s Jewish?”
“How do you know?” I asked.
She replied, “There were matzos in the bag.”
Later, the lady invited us to her home for the second night of seder.
Her last name was Shamoon. Her husband was known as the Harvey
Goldsmith of Singapore, a theatre and pop concert producer.
On our third trip to Tokyo, we were able to explore Japan. We went
up to Kyoto on the bullet train. Unfortunately, I left my passport in
the hotel in Kyoto. We contacted the hotel and they were very efficient.
“Go to the train station and we’ll put it on the bullet train. The guard
will give it to you.” Subsequently, the train pulled up and the guard
handed me my passport. Kyoto was very spiritual and most impressive.
It was a completely different culture to anything I had come across
before. The cleanliness of everything was amazing – the taxi drivers
even wore gloves!
It has been difficult for so many during the pandemic of Covid
including at Parks Candles. The smaller shops we used to distribute
to have mostly gone, but we have moved towards the internet and
survived. We received government support – 30 staff were on the
furlough scheme and our business rates and rent were much reduced.
We are in a good shape now and should go from strength to strength
in the years to come.
In the office, 1990
Carol at the Dubai Duty Free Show
When my youngest daughter, Laura, was due to marry, The
Dorchester was chosen for the wedding reception. A close
pal of mine, Tony Page, asked if he could do the catering. I said yes
with one proviso: “I need you to supply the food for the Kiddush Club
which I run at St John’s Wood Synagogue.” He said yes. I paused for a
moment and added, “For ever and ever.” His face went pale, but for the
last 25 years, Tony has been supplying the food for us.
A friend of mine, Hymie Labovitch, used to run the club. Back then,
when the haftarah was being read, 10–12 of us would congregate in the
cloakroom in the men’s toilets and Hymie would supply a bottle of whisky
and a few herrings. I felt this could be improved upon. I persuaded
the board of management at the synagogue to let us use one of the
classrooms. I introduced more whiskies and vodka and, with Tony’s
food, the Kiddush Club has expanded considerably to some 50 members.
It is popular and is also open to members’ wives. All members pay a
fee and there is usually around £8,000 a year surplus. We give this to
the synagogue for various requirements. We also make purchases for the
synagogue. We have recently bought 330 used chairs in perfect condition
from Claridge’s Hotel which were surplus to their needs – when we
counted the delivery, we had received 377. A bonus! The synagogue even
sold the existing 230 chairs for £1,500 – they were also originally bought
by the Kiddush Club, but after years of wear they were in bad condition.
It is fair to say that not every member of St John’s Wood has been
happy with the club. This is the reason why, some 20 years ago, I joined
the board of management at the synagogue to counter any opposition.
Now, I am the oldest member of the board and even though I feel it
is the right time for me to resign, the board will not let me. Dayan
Binstock’s son, Rabbi Yossi, comes to the club to say kiddush and gives
a small drosha. The Kiddush Club is accepted by the younger members
of the synagogue and our financial contributions to the upkeep of the
building are appreciated by all.
We were members of Annabel’s Club for a long time, as well as
Mark’s Club and George’s Restaurant, all owned by Mark Birley. In the
1960s, membership was £100; today it is somewhat higher at £2,500.
With the members’ clubs, whatever you paid when you first joined
remained your annual fee for life. For the gentlemen’s clubs in the West
End, they have bottles of wine that they have laid down for 50 years
and not sold. They have kept the price the same as when they first
Mark Birley, the owner of Annabel’s, Mark’s and George, also had a
gym behind Claridge’s that I used to go to regularly. Birley was friends
with Anthony Speelman, the art dealer who bought our first house in
Bryanston Mews. I was in the gym one day and Birley was telling me
how he and Anthony had been on holiday to Cuba. “Cuba has the
most beautiful women in the world,” he said, and I responded, “I hope
you didn’t catch anything.” It was said as a joke. The next day, when
I arrived at the gym, the receptionist told me I was banned. “Mr Birley
did not like what you said yesterday.” Carol phoned to demand a
written apology from Mark Birley. It never came, but eventually I was
reinstated. I have never returned to that gym.
Amongst our many parties over the years, I tried to organise
something special for Carol’s 40th birthday. It was a party in the
private members’ room at Annabel’s nightclub with just 22 of us. The
cutlery used in the room is solid silver. After the meal, as we moved
from the private dining room into the main club, Carol was stopped
by the maître d’.
“It seems there’s a spoon missing.”
“Ah,” Carol said, “I think I know who that might be.”
One of her cousins was an avid collector. A quick word to her later
and, with many apologies, the spoon was soon returned.
New Sefer Torah at the synagogue
The Golden Round
All my life, I have been blessed with good health. It was a shock
when, aged 79, I received my lung cancer diagnosis. The treatment
was not pleasant. I lost every hair on my head, but I recovered. My hair
has grown back, stronger and darker than before. My breathing can
sometimes be difficult, but that is the only lasting side effect. I smoked
cigarettes, up to 80 a day, until I was 35. Often engrossed in my work,
cigarettes would be left burning in the ashtray and I probably set fire
to my office on occasion. Then, a television programme on lung cancer
frightened me and I quit. Not long after, I took up cigars. The trips
every six weeks to the dentist put a stop to that addiction. Now I am
smoke-free and cancer-free. Now, I would lay my odds back to even.
I played tennis up to the age of 78 and considering I started at the
age of eight, I had a good few years of enjoying the game. I played at
Junior Wimbledon and did well, although to really excel, I would have
needed at least six hours of training a day. My later tennis years were in
Regent’s Park, opposite from where we live. Mr Thom ran the courts.
He always made me laugh. We would be charged £1,000 per year, but
his invoices were adapted, just a little. Jewish holidays: £400 deduction.
Rain: £300 deduction. Unavoidable absences or holidays abroad: £100
deduction. My last invoice was a final total of £100. Unfortunately, the
courts have been taken over by the council and they were looking to
develop the site for five-a-side.
A few years ago, I was approached by the board of management at
the synagogue concerning my second bar mitzvah. I was coming up to
83 years of age. I had a year to prepare, and Yossi Binstock trained me
on my parsha from the Sefer Torah. Of course, a kiddush had to follow
and, unlike the simple family gathering we had when I was 13, this
time it was extravagant. I asked Tony Page how much the catering was
going to cost me. “Don’t worry,” he said.
“Tony,” I said, “when you say don’t worry, then I start to worry!”
We had a good turnout for my second bar mitzvah, perhaps because
they all knew Tony was doing the catering! Needless to say, Tony was
expensive but worth every penny. I am reminded of the bar mitzvah
of David, my son. It was interesting. As you would expect, he did
extremely well during his preparation and it all went very well. At the
end, I can still see his face as he looked up to his mother to see if he
had her approval.
Retirement will never be for me. I like my part-time involvement
with Parks Candles and enjoy discussing the business with Richard,
though we might look at it from different perspectives.
Carol and I are fortunate enough to have been together for nearly
58 years, through ups and downs which we have shouldered together,
coming out stronger. We take enormous pleasure in seeing how our
children and now grandchildren make their independent, individual
choices in their own lives, forging ahead in a very different world to
when Carol and I were young.
We are truly blessed to have priceless memories. With G-d’s help,
may there be many more.